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Goats provide sure-footed cleanup for Sunnyvale's landfills

Sunnyvale--As the newest employees of the city of Sunnyvale, goats are maintaining the city's landfills by grazing on its grass. The city is experimenting with the use of goats to perform vegetation control for the 93-acre landfill in place of mechanical moving.

On June 20, 60 goats were unloaded onto the hills of the landfill.

The goats are strategically placed so that they only graze on a couple of acres at a time. Enclosed by solar powered electric fences, they stay together and eat peacefully. According to Dorlene Russell, the goats do not disturb or harm the wildlife at the landfill. Environmental Engineering Coordinator William Theyskens said grazing on the landfill doesn't harm to the goats either.

"This is a closed landfill, which means there is a soil cover over the top where the grass grows," he explains. "The goats aren't being exposed to anything bad."

According to the sMart Station, using goats instead of personnel-operated machinery is safer. Using goats reduces the use of motorized vehicles, which in turn reduces air pollution and usage of fossil fuels. Not only are the goats environmentally safe, but also safer for the land because there's isn't the threat of vehicle fires or broken pipes.

"There are many pipes and wells out here to hit, it's hard for tractors to get around them," Theyskens said. "Just recently a lawn mower hit a pipe, which caused a spark that started a fire."

Furthermore, using heavy machinery such as tractors and lawn mowers produces much more noise, rather than the relatively quiet goats. "This is a good way to bring some of the wildlife back," Theyskens added.

Theyskens said he came up with the idea after having to deal with problems such these mechanical difficulties and also with the environment in mind. Although he was told that he was not the first one to recommend using goats.

"I guess they tried to do it before, but for some reason or another they couldn't get it off the ground," he said. This kind of animal grazing taking place over mechanical land maintenance is done in other places such as airports and parks, but not on landfills.

Theyskens said he came up with the idea through working closely with farm animals on his spare time.

"My wife has a horse business, so we're around a lot of animals," Theyskens said. "One day while out with the horses, I looked at a goat and it came to me."

He then found out some more information on the goats, including their capabilities and needs. He said he realized the goats would be a very smart alternative.

So far the project has been a success, and on June 23 an additional 30 goats were placed on the landfill. "We are still working on it and making changes to see what works best," Theyskens said. "We are trying to find an alternative for the fencing because now we have to relocate the fences every other day, in order to keep the goats on specific acres at a time,"

How often the goats will be brought in is also still in question. Theyskens said it would probably take the goats about two weeks to maintain the entire landfill. "They work pretty fast, but grass doesn't grow as much in the summer," he added. "We're thinking about bringing them during the rainy season as more of a maintenance system and bring them out periodically."

Theyskens said potentially the goats are more cost effective, but right now the two options are now of equal cost.

"We had to contact workers out to mow the landfill, so we are saving money on employee costs, but we now have to pay to maintain the goats, so it's about even now," he said.

The city is renting the goats from a separate company, but Theyskens is leaning towardshaving the city own them in the coming years if needed.
Gretchen Knaup

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