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LA's weed-munching goats become local stars

A herd of goats deployed in Los Angeles to keep down weeds have become something of a sightseeing attraction amid the downtown bustle.
Image: A herd of goats graze on dried brush beneath the Angels Flight railway.
A herd of goats graze on dried brush beneath the Angels Flight railway, in Los Angeles, on Monday.Monica Almeida / Redux Pictures
/ Source: The New York Times

With brown, dusty grass lining the hillside, this scrubby patch of land in the middle of downtown is not that much to look at.

But in the span of a few days, the weeds on the patch along South Hill Street have gone from a few feet tall to mere inches — thanks to a herd of goats that gobble up to 15 pounds of grass and such a day and have become something of a sightseeing attraction in the downtown bustle.

Using goats to clear roadsides and public lands of brush and weeds is hardly new, but usually they tend to work far from a downtown.

In Southern California, where wildfires are a constant threat, municipal governments have increasingly moved to hiring goats rather than relying on weed whackers to clear dry land, saying it saves money and is better for the environment.

“This comes natural to them; they know it and love it,” said Johnny Gonzales, the herd manager for Environmental Land Management, the company hired to deploy the goats. “We are just using what nature gave them.”

Image: A visitor pets a goat from a herd brought in to graze on dried brush beneath the Angels Flight railway, in Los Angeles.
A visitor pets a goat from a herd brought in to graze on dried brush beneath the Angels Flight railway, in Los Angeles, Aug. 8, 2011. For the fourth year, the goats from Environmental Land Management have been hired to clear a patch of land on the hill and have become a popular attraction. (Monica Almeida/The New York Times)Monica Almeida / NYTNS

Environmental Land Management charges an average of $1,250 an acre for its goat service.

By now, the fourth year that the goats have been used to clear the steep hillside known as Angel’s Knoll, they have become a summer tradition.

Gawking at goats
The herd of mostly female South African Boer goats — roughly 60 adults and 60 kids — came from San Diego, and each day, the throngs of onlookers — bankers and lawyers, tourists and families — have gathered to gawk at the brown and white and spotted creatures.

The goats seem unperturbed by the nearby tram, Angels Flight, that carries people up the hill, or the constant photo snapping and the eager hands that reach out to pet them.

These goats, Mr. Gonzales said, are adept at dealing with noise and people. (Don’t go looking for urban grass-fed goat meat or cheese from these animals; Mr. Gonzales said he had no plans to market their products for food. Besides, he added, the meat would probably not be tender anyway.)

The youngest members of the herd are trained by visiting the sites with their mothers. Every once in a while, one of the smallest kids slips through an opening in the fence around Angel’s Knoll.

But they then tend to just stand there, gazing around at the people, until one of the 24-hour-a-day attendants shoos them back to where they belong.

“If I’ve got goats wandering where they’re not supposed to be, that’s the end of me,” Mr. Gonzales said.

Juan Rodarte, 41, recently brought his family of eight for lunch nearby and stopped by the Angels Flight funicular for a joy ride, as many families do this time of year. When he pointed out the goats, his daughters giggled with delight. Though the teenagers grew bored, the younger Rodartes remained captivated, giving the animals their best baa imitations.

Kimberly, 9, could not remember if she had ever seen a goat before. “In the zoo,” her father told her. But she protested, ‘You never take us to the zoo.”

“This is the first time they aren’t just on TV,” Kimberly said.

This article, headlined "Money Savers and Crowd Pleasers With Cloven Hooves," first appeared in The New York Times.