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Goat-grazing business fills environmental niche in Western Pennsylvania

| Wednesday, April 8, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
Primrose, front, and Love Song are two Nigerian dwarf goats owned by Carrie Pavlik of Allentown. They are shown Tuesday, April 7, 2015.
Heidi Murrin | Trib Total Media
A curious Primrose, the Nigerian dwarf goat, checks out her surroundings as goat Love Song and owner Carrie Pavlik hang out on Tuesday, April 7, 2015.

Goats really will eat anything — quietly and without much encouragement — so it makes simple sense to some to take advantage of that.

Pittsburgh resident Carrie Pavlik, expects to profit from increased demand for environmentally friendly land management with her goat-grazing start-up business, Steel City Grazers, which charges customers to have the company's goats eat shrubs, bushes and other unwanted greenery on their land, especially vacant lots.

The Allegheny County Conservation District, which promotes conserving and improving the county's natural resources, is supporting goat grazing for vegetation management by hosting a public information session Tuesday with Pavlik.

“It's a niche that … aligns with our mission,” said Jeff Leindecker, agricultural conservation technician at the county Conservation District. “It doesn't fit in every situation but with some of the obstacles in Pennsylvania with the steep terrain, the topography of Western Pennsylvania, it doesn't always lend itself to just going out and mowing invasive vegetation.”

The Conservation District has invited representatives from utility companies that manage rights of way, the Allegheny County Airport Authority, parks and other entities that oversee large spaces and want to manage vegetation in a more environmentally sound way, he said.

For more than 100 years, goats have been used to manage unwanted vegetation in the United States, according to the Cornell University Animal Science Department.

As goats grow in number and become a more accepted farm animal in the U.S., their natural dietary preference for brush and weeds becomes better known and appreciated, the department said.

Pittsburgh has proposed changes to its urban agriculture ordinance that will allow dwarf or pigmy goats anywhere within the city.

On Jan. 1, the total number of goats in the United States was 2.68 million head, up 2 percent from 2014, according to the Department of Agriculture. Breeding goat inventory totaled 2.20 million head, up 2 percent from 2014.

The benefits of goat grazers for vegetation management over conventional landscaping methods include the elimination of loud equipment and toxic herbicides, said Pavlik, of the city's Allentown neighborhood. Waste from the goats acts as a fertilizer, she said.

Companies like Steel City Grazers are popping up all over the country, she said.

Seeing the business in an urban area will be eye-opening for many people, she said.

“It's a way for the community to reconnect with nature by seeing livestock in an urban setting,” she said.

Pavlik expects to start the business in early May. She has lined up one Saanen, one Nigerian Dwarf and five Nubian goats for her business, but she is working to get at least 10 goats for the business.

She also is working on finding a farm or another property to hold the animals when they aren't in use.

Pavlik owns two Nigerian Dwarf dairy goats as pets and as a milk source, but they will not be among her grazing goats. Her pet goats are pregnant, and their kids likely will join the grazers, she said.

It takes about three weeks for 10 goats to clear an acre, she said.

Pavlik said she is receiving a lot of interest from potential clients and is in the process of securing a contract with Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area for her company's goats to clear bushes and weeds, and some grass, from about a quarter of an acre at the Carrie Furnaces site.

The Carrie Furnaces site, which is 107 acres, is owned by the county, but Rivers of Steel manages about 35 acres, which is the National Historic Landmark portion of the site in Swissvale.

“This is something that internally we've discussed for a number of years,” said Ronald Baraff, director of museum collections and archives at Rivers of Steel. “The goats can get to places (where) we can't take equipment, so there's a lot of benefit to it.”

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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