Goats may be answer for overgrown sign outside Murrysville

| Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The solution to clearing the Murrysville tree sign might have four hooves and enjoy munching on the scraggly underbrush that obscures the 80-year-old sign's message.

Machines to clear the overgrown 5 acres can't surmount the steep slope near Pleasant Valley Road, where 850 spruce trees spell out “MURRYSVILLE” on a hill overlooking the community. But goats — natural lawn mowers — can.

Indeed, a Penn State livestock expert said, goats can be an effective method to clear land.

Municipal officials are continuing to research ways to clear the brush and make the hillside name crisp again.

Arborists have checked over the trees and say the stand is healthy.

Residents who used to maintain the world-record sign are aging and no longer can do the work. Human labor is tough and costly, chief administrator Jim Morrison said.

“The idea is either we're going to have the sign, or we're not,” Morrison said on Thursday. “If we're going to have the sign, we need to take care of it.”

Boy Scouts planted the tree sign between 1932 and 1933. Since then, the sign has been included in the Guinness Book of World Records several times.

The “M” comprises 72 trees. The “Y” points to Haymaker No. 1, the world's first commercial gas well.

To save the landmark sign, officials are thinking outside the box, Morrison said.

Thirty goats can eat a half-acre per day, but fewer goats could be used, he said. Goats would be fenced in and graze about a half-acre at a time.

“I don't think it takes very many goats at all,” he said. “They're just eating machines.”

Murrysville officials haven't discussed costs.

Walt Bumgarner, a Penn State Extension livestock educator in Fayette County, called goats a “viable alternative.”

Goats often are used in the West to clear land, but that would be unusual in Western Pennsylvania.

Eco-Goats, a Maryland-based company that specializes in “environmentally friendly vegetation control,” is too far from Westmoreland County to transport the animals here, Morrison said. No similar companies exist in the Pittsburgh region, he said.

Perhaps a farmer with goats would like help the municipality, Morrison said.

“We can keep them busy,” he said.

In studies comparing the results from goats clearing land versus herbicides, goats perform better, Bumgarner said. Goats strip the leaves off bushes and can completely devastate multiflora rose growth.

“They do an excellent job with clearing stuff,” Bumgarner said. “It is a very environmentally friendly way to do it.”

Goats are not difficult to maintain, but fencing the wandering creatures is important, Bumgarner said. It's crucial to keep track of their predators.

“They're going to go out and eat the plants. As long as they've got living plants to eat off, they're fine,” Bumgarner said. “They'll eat grass, but if there's something there with a leaf on it, they're going to nibble that.”

Murrysville Council asked Morrison to keep researching ideas.

“If there's anybody in the municipality that has some ideas in this matter, we'd welcome their input,” President Joan Kearns said. “We are open to suggestions.”

Rossilynne Skena Culgan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or rskena@tribweb.com.

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