House & Home

Livestock Used for Brush Clearance at O'Hare

Posted August 16, 2013

O'Hare's youngest employee is just two days old, but before you cry foul, don't worry: he's not separated from his mother. Oh, and he's a lamb. The airport is joining aviation facilities across the US in coming up with novel ways to control weeds, shrubs, and invasive species around the runways to keep the facility safe.

A herd of goats, sheep, donkeys, and llamas (yes, really!) will now be patrolling O'Hare to much down on greenery that would otherwise be costly and painstaking to clear. They're not just saving the airport a lot of money: they're also modeling the new trend of hiring animals to do clearance work instead of leaving it to humans, making maintenance much easier and way more adorable.

To boot, it's an environmentally-friendly alternative to using heavy equipment for clearing. Instead of having to rely on gas-guzzling tools, maintenance workers can set the herd loose (with a minder) to take care of their overgrowth. Furthermore, the livestock keep unwanted animals away, keeping them clear of the airfield so they don't foul engines and cause other problems. Thus, they could be said to be a multipurpose workforce.

Airports aren't the only places where animals like goats are being used for brush clearance. They've also been employed along highways across the nation and at sites like Freshkills. Goat rental services offer their herds to cities and companies with land that needs clearing, but you can also rent a goat for the home. If you have an invasive species problem, an area of the yard that needs clearing, or a lawn that's getting too overgrown for fire safety, goats will be more than happy to take care of the job.

For home hire, you'll need to watch out. Goats are infamous for having indiscriminate tastes, and if you have plants you want to keep, they need to be protected. Goats can climb, too, and will strip the bark from trees in addition to tearing at climbing vines. One option is to have the goats work inside a fenced area that only covers the area of interest. You can also have them staked out on lead lines that won't allow them to roam too far to prevent unwanted snacking.

As a bonus, if you're working with a local goat farmer, you might be able to request milk and cheese made from your goats. Pretty cool to imagine eating dairy products produced from goats that grazed in your own yard, right?!

City goats (and other livestock) are a booming trend across the US, and the practical use of herds to manage weeds and invasives is being taken up by a growing number of municipalities. It's a great transition away from wasteful, noisy, and polluting methods of weed and plant control. Test programs like the one at O'Hare are also demonstrating that livestock can even be employed, so to speak, in potentially crowded and noisy environments but still remain healthy and happy.

If you're worried about the safety of the animals at O'Hare who are acting as their own Chicago landscaping service, don't worry: they're in a secure fenced area and their handlers make sure they're happy and in good health. Apparently they're undisturbed by the airplane noise from the airport, possibly because they're too distracted by all that delicious food. And if you were hoping to get a chance to view them during your next interminable layover at one of the most notorious airports in the US, sorry; they're not in an area that's accessible to the public.

Katie Marks writes for

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