Education | Environment | News | Oregon

Portland Public Schools Enlists 39 Goats, Llama, To Eat Back Invasive Weeds

OPB | Oct. 4, 2013 4:43 p.m. | Updated: Oct. 7, 2013 1:02 p.m. | Portland

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A llama and 39 goats have spent the last few days eating their way through an overgrown hillside next to the Portland school district central office. It’s an experiment. The district wonders if the goats can provide an economical, environmentally-friendly alternative for invasive weed control. Rob Manning caught up with the goats, and has this report.

Briana Murphy opens her little white trailer, with the words “Goat Power” on the side, and claps her hands.

Briana Murphy, owner of Goat Power, brought a llama and 39 goats to eat weeds at a Portland Public Schools administration building.

Briana Murphy, owner of Goat Power, brought a llama and 39 goats to eat weeds at a Portland Public Schools administration building.

Kayo Lackey / OPB

“Everybody ready?” she says. “Come on, babies, come on.”

Murphy has school district employees arranged in two lines outside the trailer. They make a corridor for the goats to walk through. The animals emerge one at a time, sometimes in a burst of five or six. They trot past the people and through a chain-link fence to nibble the thick English ivy and towering blackberry bushes.

The idea to bring in the goats came from Mark Franklin, the district’s foreman of grounds keeping. He says he got the idea when he passed an office building in downtown Portland a few months ago.

“As I was driving by one day, I looked in there, and thought I saw a goat,” Franklin says. “So I drove around the block, and there was a whole herd of goats in there, and they were managing all the vegetation. Stopped them from having to mow it, or spray it, or that type of thing.”

Mark Franklin

Mark Franklin

Kayo Lackey / OPB

Franklin has a crew of four groundskeepers to cover more than 80 school campuses. He says this weed-covered hillside behind the administration building is a very low priority.

“It’s very expensive to get manpower in there to do all this clearing,” he says. “It’s about a half-acre and a very, very steep slope. So, we just thought, what a fantastic opportunity, give this a shot. Let’s see how it all works out. We think it’s very economical. We think it’s a very environmentally-friendly way to do it.”

Briana Murphy’s goats will be here around the clock for up to seven days.

“Goats work about twelve hours a day,” Murphy says. “They work during the day and then they also work at night. They will kind of work until they’re full, then they’ll stop and take a nap, chew their cud for a little bit, and then get up and get started again.”

The district is paying Goat Power up to $2,800. Franklin says that’s about half what it’d cost to run human crews.

Murphy says her goats also mean the district shouldn’t need herbicides to knock back the weeds.

Goats are munching through a half-acre at Portland Public School's central office.

Goats are munching through a half-acre at Portland Public School's central office.

Kayo Lackey / OPB

“As people start to understand the effectiveness of goats, they will start to see that it’s a better alternative to blanket spraying of herbicides, because as you continue to apply herbicides, you start to develop resistances within the plants, but I have never met a plant that was resistant to goats,” Murphy says.

There is one kind of resistance that Murphy will have to deal with. It’s the goats’ resistance to her — when the job is over.

“Yeah, loading goats is the hardest part of my job. It’s the hardest part,” she says.

Murphy admits she’s not entirely sure how she’ll get her goats off the Portland hillside. She has a general plan to corral and direct them through a chute back to their small trailer.

The only llama helping clear weeds for Portland Public Schools.

The only llama helping clear weeds for Portland Public Schools.

Kayo Lackey / OPB

“That is always my plan. That isn’t usually what happens.”

District officials say they’re interested in using goats more, but the situation has to be right. A bank of ivy at the closed Marshall High School campus is a good candidate. But if goats are going to be at a school for any length of time, officials want a fence or someone watching around the clock, so the goats don’t get into late-night mischief.

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