SHARON – Watching goats and a donkey munching unwanted foliage along the Shenango River bank in Sharon Wednesday was strangely compelling for bystanders.
“I think it’s great,” said Jim Mondok, a Sharon resident who volunteered to oversee the herd, as he snapped pictures. “The goats like poison ivy and we like to get rid of it, so it’s the perfect match.”
Allegheny Goatscape dropped off the herd of 11 goats and a donkey named Diamond Wednesday at a fenced-in area in downtown Sharon in River Gardens Park. The animals immediately set to work eating poison ivy and other noxious plants from the river bank.
Diamond, who eats whatever the goats eat, keeps the goats in line and make sure other animals don’t bother the herd.
Employees from Allegheny Goatscape, a nonprofit animal organization, came into Sharon Tuesday and set up a solar-powered electric fence that blocked off an area from just behind Riverview Manor about an acre to near West Budd Street. The space averages about 50 feet wide, and uses the water as a boundary opposite the fence.
Gavin Deming, executive director of Allegheny Goatscape, said the goats don’t like the water and they know what they’re there to do.
“They’ll eat everything between the fence here and the water,” he said. “They’re well-trained on the fence, so they know what it means to them.”
The goats — sure-footed as, well, goats — are also adept at climbing up and down the river bank.
“They work pretty much around the clock,” Deming said. “They’ll just work until there’s nothing left to eat.”
Deming said he expects the goats to be in Sharon for a few weeks as they clear the area on the west side of the river bank, before they consume the unwanted foliage on the east side by the canoe launch.
Three volunteer groups – Sharon Beautification Commission, Shenango Valley Gardeners and Shenango River Watchers – hired the floppy-eared landscaping crew for $3,000.
“Our biggest concern is we’re not doing this with chemicals,” said Ann U’Halie, president of Shenango Valley Gardeners and a member of the Beautification Commission. “We’ve sprayed before and it didn’t do anything.”
According to Allegheny Goatscape, goats are effective and are used to managing thorny, itchy and invasive plants on Pittsburgh’s steep slopes. The process is eco-friendly because the goats manage vegetation without herbicides. They leave no synthetic waste and naturally fertilize the soil.
The commission called for volunteers because Allegheny Goatscape employees are from Pittsburgh and have three other working herds.
“We have a special situation here in Sharon where the local neighbors will be helping out when we can’t,” Deming said.
U’Halie said several people have signed up for volunteer shifts in the morning, afternoon and evening. In the morning and evening, volunteers will replace the herds’ water, take a head count, check the fences and make sure all the animals appear healthy.
“The volunteers are welcome to come and brush the animals and hang out,” Deming said. “The goats are social animals. They like a little attention.”
However, Allegheny Goatscape said people who have not signed up as volunteers should not enter the fence or bother the goats.
Gavin Deming, Founder & Executive Director of Allegheny GoatScape, explains how a herd of goats will help change Downtown Sharon's landscape.
“We would rather people not enter who we don’t know,” Deming said. “Just for the safety of the animals and people.”
Follow Melissa Klaric on Twitter and Facebook @ HeraldKlaric, email: mklaric@sharonherald. com