Green Goats: The Coolest Vegetation Removal Business Ever
Munching on poison ivy.
By Andrea Pyros
If you think about it, it’s extremely rare to have an idea that taps into the Hudson Valley’s local/eco-friendly/farm-based economy and also happens to be so ridiculously cute as to sound like the plot of the best kid’s film you never saw (working title: Goats That Garden). But with Green Goats, a Rhinebeck-based business where the adorable and the brilliant combine, that’s the case.
It’s the brainchild of Ann and Larry Cihanek, the married couple who run the environmentally-friendly goat vegetation removal service, renting out goats to a variety of sites in the Northeast that need weed and vegetation removal, particularly large sites on hills or with overgrown areas where it’s too challenging for humans and their machines to work.
Cihanek drops off the goat to work on Staten Island.
The Manhattan-born Larry didn’t grow up farming. Instead, he spent 40 years in advertising. When he was ready to leave the industry, he relocated to Dutchess County where he’d spent weekends as a child.
“This is the prettiest area in the country,” he says. “It has a wonderful mix of sophistication and a sufficient amount of rural to keep me going.” He decided to keep a few goats as a hobby.
“I thought I’d make goat cheese,” he admits, but it turns out his goats were destined for greener pastures. Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island sent an email to 400 New York-area goat owners explaining that the site’s tree roots were splitting the rocks in the fort and could anyone — and their goats — help. “Eight of us responded, and the other seven said it could not be done,” Larry says, “but we tried it. And did it.” That was nine years ago, and Larry’s doubled the number of clients and the number of goats he owns every year since then.
Tragically, this past February a fire raged in the Red Hook barn where the Cihanek’s housed their 100 goats, and the entire herd perished. These were beloved animals. “They all had names and we knew them and they knew us. You’d call and say, ‘Sally it’s your turn,’ and she’d come. They could be 200 yards away and I’d say ‘Hey, ladies,’ and they’d come flying.”
“After the fire, people were so amazingly generous,” Cihanek says about those dark days. He and his wife assumed they’d need to go out and buy goats to replace the loss, but instead they received not only money, but also goats as donations from far and wide.
Clearing the brush at Pelham Park in the Bronx.
“The average goat herd in the country is seven goats,” he explains, “And they’re your friends; you can’t just send them off to the auction, but all of a sudden you have 11 goats and only have space for seven, so people are thanking us for taking their goats and we’re thanking them for giving them to us!” Goats past a certain age can no longer make cheese or win shows, “but for our purposes, they all eat bushes and they are all friendly and we’ll keep them.”
If you’re wondering what makes goats superior to that pricey new Toro mower you bought, it’s not just their charm and sweet disposition, it’s also their ability to eat… and eat; to happily munch on poison ivy without breaking into a rash; and to reach those tricky spots (never seen a goat on a cliff? Check ‘em out!).
“Goats don’t recognize hills as being hills,” says Cihanek. “Like at Vanderbilt Mansion where I have to put my hands on the ground to walk, they don’t care. They think it’s level.” Jobs vary depending on the needs of the client, taking into consideration the size of the spot, how hard it will be to build the fence necessary to keep the goats safe, how often the Cihaneks will need to revisit the site, and the status of the vegetation. As few as four or as many as 20 to 25 goats will be sent to work. Cihanek says, “The whole business is goats du jour — what are you trying to accomplish and how many goats do you need?”
The goats help maintain the lawn at Wilderstein Historic Site.
This season, the goats’ first job was at a cemetery in Staten Island where the staff wanted to go in and cut trees and vines, but the poison ivy made that prohibitive, so Cihanek brought 28 goats for about five days, which he refers to as a “flash mob.” In most cases, though, the goats stay for the entire growing season.
Before you get excited about the idea of having the hungry crew show up to help out with your yard (I know I was), Cihanek says it’s not practical for either him or the homeowner.
“If it’s green, the goats will eat all of your plants,” without discerning the weeds from the prize flowers, although he admits that there’s a goat owner in Paris who rolls five goats around and hires them out to whoever needs a quick mow (or should we say chew?). “There are no limits to this business. The only limit is your imagination.”