Allegheny GoatScape trots their way to campus

Emma Polen | Editor-in-Chief | Sunshine the miniature donkey and Erin Gaughan from Allegheny GoatScape hang behind Rockwell. When Gaughan and the rest of the staff goes home for the night Sunshine stands guard over the goats. Sunshine's crew will continue to work by eating the greenery on Duquesne's hill throughout Friday.

Isabella Abbott | Features Editor

Behind Rockwell on the hills above the Duquesne rock, goats and a donkey were found grazing on the intense greenery throughout this week.

Allegheny GoatScape, a nonprofit organization that reduces invasive vegetation in public spaces with farm animals, made its second-ever trip to Duquesne with Sunshine leading the herd’s landscaping efforts.

The nonprofit utilizes five herds of animals, each typically consisting of more than six goats and one donkey. Team Sunshine began their work in 2019 and features Sunshine the mini donkey and 14 goats, including Peanut, Shrimpy, Miso, Mango, Love Song, Chip and Dale.

Executive Director Gavin Deming established the organization in 2017 after transitioning from a former organization named Steel City Grazers. After seeing the goats in action eating away invasive plants, Deming said he wanted to continue the Steel City Grazers and turn it into the nonprofit it is today.

“Pittsburgh is a very green city, but a lot of greenery is invasive plants,” Deming said. “While some plants have done well and allow the native plants to continue to thrive, invasive plants take advantage and take over spaces so that the native plants can’t grow, which has a ripple effect on the whole ecosystem.”

According to Allegheny GoatScape, giving goats access to intentional properties removes vegetation in an eco-friendly and efficient manner. And since they can climb terrain difficult for humans and machinery, they’re the perfect way to eliminate vegetation.

“As a staff, it would have taken us a long time, and just allowing the goats in there to do their thing over a few days was really impressive,” Deming said. “And knowing that by utilizing goats, we’re avoiding using a lot of sprays, herbicides, that sort of thing, I was taken by the whole idea.”

Some students, like Casey Sullivan, said that although she hadn’t seen the goats here, she’d seen them at the Waterfront at work.

“I think it’s a really good thing for the environment that they’re using natural mowing instead of using a machine,” Sullivan said.

The herds work with their donkey as a leader and their goats as followers. While the goats graze, their donkey leader, Sunshine, ensures they’re safe. Deming said that this partnership works because donkeys need companionship just as much as goats.

“While I’m sure they’d prefer a whole bunch of donkeys to hang out with, they do well hanging out with goats. And so, just as an added insurance, we want to make sure our animals are protected, so that’s why we have the donkey,” Deming said.

Community Engagement Coordinator for Allegheny GoatScape, Erin Gaughan, said Sunshine is like a “guard donkey.”

“People sometimes think she herds the goats to move them into the trailer, but she doesn’t do that,” Gaughan said. “Donkeys have an innate dislike of canines, and in a lot of spaces, we do have to worry about coyotes or even dogs, so if they get into a space where the goats are, they would attack.”

Though Gaughan said she has taken a “keen interest” in Sunshine the donkey as her favorite animal, she loves the goats so much that she even has one tattooed on her.

“I do have a tattoo on my arm of a goat in particular named Peanut, who’s on Team Sunshine, so I guess he’s my favorite because I got him permanently on my body,” Gaughan said.

Although the goats and Sunshine work for many hours at a time, they gain fuel from the plants they’re constantly eating and love traveling from site to site.

“When we arrived to Duquesne, we were able to just pull right up and back in, open the gate, and they rushed right out and were very happy because they had eaten through everything at the previous site,” Deming said.

The herds stay at their locations anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. Deming said it is always different and depends on the size of the area. Typically, it takes about two weeks to do a full acre. He said that Duquesne’s steep hillside is very small, so Sunshine’s team will only be on campus for three to four days.

Some other areas the herds have been include West Penn Park, Pittsburgh South Side Park, Frick Park and the Erie National Wildlife Reserve.

“We love to be in parks because we get to work with a lot of different organizations that are actively managing the land, so that means we’re a small piece of an overall puzzle to improve and restore a lot of these wonderful green spaces throughout Pittsburgh,” Deming said.
This year, the City of Pittsburgh commissioned the goats to help clean part of the 626 acres of the brand-new park Hays Woods.

The Allegheny Goatscape has many different volunteer opportunities for anyone interested in environmental improvement or just hanging out with goats. Deming said it’s a great opportunity to get involved.

“You’re contributing to something greater that’s really helping the local environment,” Deming said.