‘Goatscaping’ May Actually Be a Terrible Idea

There’s a good chance that you’ve heard of “goatscaping” by now. If a municipality or large landowner has a heck of a lot of grass to mow, they may opt to buy or hire a herd of goats instead of employing a lawn mowing service. Those goats then wander the property, snacking on grass and keeping it short.

At first blush, it certainly sounds like a win-win, doesn’t it? The grass stays cut, and the goats have a sweet gig for as long as they do a good job. But unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out so well for the goats.

Take the recent example of the goats at Craney Island Landfill in Portsmouth, Va.

It would have cost the city about $42,000 for professional mowing of the 120-acre former landfill area. Instead, in 2013 the Portsmouth City Council chose to buy 10 goats and 10 sheep and let them take care of it.

By 2017, sadly, only two goats remain. The rest disappeared or died.

goats eating grass

Photo credit: Thinkstock

So what happened? It appears that poor planning and a lack of understanding may be to blame.

The idea reportedly first arose as a joke when the city council discussed lawn care at the landfill site. The terrain there is uneven, making a specialty mower a necessity. The city’s mower was broken, and they needed a new solution.

After someone Googled goatscaping and realized it’s a real method for maintaining large grassed areas, the city council decided to give it a go.

The City of Portsmouth spent roughly $10,000 for this goat-powered service. Unfortunately, the city learned that successful goatscaping requires professional goatscapers.

And in the four years since the city decided to try goatscaping, a number of unfortunate events have happened.

Two goats became infected with parasites and died. One was attacked and killed, probably by a coyote. Two newborn goat kids died after somehow being crushed by their mother. That disaster led the city to send away the two males in the group to stop them from further impregnating the females.

The other goats and sheep? They’re just gone.


Photo credit: Thinkstock

“We just haven’t been able to locate them,” Erin Trimyer, Portsmouth’s Director of Public Utilities, told The Virginian-Pilot. “I can’t tell you specifically if it was a coyote or what other wildlife is out there, but it is our assumption that the rest of the animals have passed away.”

Well, that’s terrific. Was no one assigned as caretaker for these animals? How can multiple sheep and goats just disappear?

Here’s one clue: the city knew almost immediately that this idea was going to fail.

“By the end of the first year of the experiment in 2014, we realized that using goats to cut the grass was not working,” Portsmouth mayor John Rowe told The Virginian-Pilot. But a problem remained: What should they do with the remaining goats?

Is it that difficult to re-home 20 goats and sheep? Surely a sanctuary could have accepted these animals.

Sadly, the city’s inaction apparently doomed all but two goats. The fact that they don’t know what happened to 16 animals makes you wonder how much effort they put into monitoring them to be sure they were safe and sound.

Professional goatscapers say an area the size of the Craney Island Landfill needed a herd of perhaps 600 to 1,000 goats to maintain the grass. The 20 animals purchased by the city weren’t going to get the job done, as officials discovered pretty quickly.

Lest you think the goats and sheep from Portsmouth, Va., are the only ones to have disappeared, you need only look to Warwick, R.I.

There, a “funny looking” one-horned Nigerian goat — variously known as Sammy or Frank — walked away from a goatscaping job. This was a goat overseen by a professional, mind you.

Sammy (or Frank), the goat that went missing in Rhode Island.  Photo credit:  Warwick RI Police Department Facebook page

Sammy (or Frank), the goat that went missing in Rhode Island. Photo credit: Warwick RI Police Department Facebook page

And goats aren’t the only ones potentially harmed by the practice of goatscaping.

Every lawn tended by animals means one less yard that can provide a job opportunity for a human. The trend toward using goats has caused at least one union to file a grievance against Western Michigan University. In July of 2017, the union alleged that goats are now doing work that laid-off workers used to do.

But goatscaping isn’t all bad.

Keeping large areas “mowed” without using machines and chemicals is a laudable aim. All in all, though, I worry about the goats and sheep. It feels like in most cases, no one’s watching out for their welfare.

Ideally, these animals would be left alone and not used for this purpose. If that’s not going to happen, then how about treating them with some respect?

Goats and sheep are not fungible, mini-lawnmowers. They’re animals with their own lives.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Kelly S
Kelly Syesterday


Marie W
Marie W20 days ago

thanks for sharing

Melania Padilla
Melania P5 months ago

Yes, it is like you cannot just leave them there cutting grass.... Sharing as well

Jennifer H
Jennifer H5 months ago

It is a good idea if they were supervised but the willy-nilly of the actions is deplorable.

Margie F5 months ago

If I had a sheep, it would be a pet, to get on with my dogs and cats.

Maria P

Sad and anger provoking.

bob Petermann
bob P5 months ago

We need to do a better job of thinking things through. Thanks fo sharing.

Pat P
Pat P6 months ago

There is just not enough concern for the welfare of our animals! Goats are sweet, affectionate, intelligent and friendly. Only 16 goats?! No one assigned to care for these animals? If a wild animal didn't kill them, what about angry unemployed lawn care employees or human gluttons?

This is not just a situation of poor animal management. It is ANIMAL NEGLECT AND CRUELTY! The goats don't speak English, and they are not toys! They need direction, daily care. Humans need to be responsible for the suffering that they cause animals, when they assume too much, don't know what they are doing, are too cheap, or don't care whether animals are tended.

I am an animal lover, and this irresponsibility angers and sickens me. It is all-too-common! Where are the professionals? Goats are not good grass-grazers, but thistle and other weed consumers. Sheep are better for grass, I believe. Shepherds should know the correct answer. Animals need our respect! They don't differ much from humans--except maybe smarter and kinder!

Philippa P
Philippa P6 months ago


One Heart i
One Heart inc6 months ago