Awbury Goat Project turns to grazing on Christmas trees

by Walt Maguire
Posted 1/15/21

The tree collection is a small part of their grazing operation.

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Awbury Goat Project turns to grazing on Christmas trees

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Three years ago, word went out on a new way to recycle Christmas trees: Feed them to goats. The Philadelphia Goat Project added this to their list of therapeutic activities alongside goat walks, goat yoga, therapy animal goats, environmental education, private events, grazing and just coming to Awbury Arboretum to look at the goats.

The tree collection is a small part of their grazing operation.

Grazing is one of the Project’s few activities that has a commerce element. Individuals and institutions can hire the animals to clear weeds and vines in terrain that would be difficult for vehicles or require heavy machinery and manpower. And it provides an additional cashflow to support the Project’s more therapeutic activities.

On their website, they describe the benefits: “Goats are able to eat up to 25% of their body weight per day in roughage! They specialize in leafy, overgrown vines, including poison ivy and can stand up on their hind legs to reach plants as high as six feet tall.”

Another feature is that it will entertain the neighbors instead of disrupting the street: “Unlike machines which blow seeds about, make noise, and rely on the use of fossil fuels, our goats do all of this quietly and peacefully.”  

Karen Krivit got the idea for the Goat Project in 2016 when she was out for a run and passed a herd of goats grazing. She had been a social worker for 25 years, but the presidential election had left her feeling restless and looking for a new way to use her “social capital” to make a difference. She had grown frustrated with classroom-oriented support for children with learning disabilities.

“Once a child leaves the classroom, once they reach a certain age, there isn’t as much support for them,” Krivit said.

Animal-based activities seemed a way to expand support in a way that had fewer social barriers and could bring autistic people into more of a relation to the community. The Philadelphia Goat Project started in 2018 at the Awbery Arboretum.  Krivit, 56, is the director. Her daughter, Lily Sage, 26, is the co-director.

While grazing rental is a logical part of the operation, and usually out of the public eye, Krivit still tries to find educational and therapeutic angles to it; An ideal project, said Krivit, was last October’s weeklong stay in High School Park in Elkins Park, where the goats cleared brush in an environmentally sound way and also provided a community experience.

There are 14 goats. To graze, they’re enclosed in a 200 linear-foot fence. When they finish there, the fence is moved and the process begins again. Depending on the weed density, landscape, property size, grazing can take days or weeks. When possible, the goats are left overnight (except some of the smaller breeds, such as their five Nigerian Dwarf goats). The cost is between $300 and $500 per section, depending on the terrain.

The operation has a small paid staff for management and animal training and a number of high school interns who are learning the methods and discipline for careers in research, such as Kevin Hennigan, a ninth-grader at Lankenau High. He’s been working at the Project for three years. (Tree drop-off also brought in almost 50 volunteers.)

The Project collected almost 500 trees in 2019, and with this year’s pandemic they were on their way to break that record. It’s also a day when families get out of their cars and meet the animals. The volunteers and staff walked around in holiday costumes (including Gritty and a lanternfly) and even the smallest visitors kept their masks in place. Colleen Pellete was watching her son feed an evergreen twig to a friendly goat. Sean, two-and-a-half, extended the twig cautiously through the fence. He didn’t have to wait long.

“We’ve been to the Arboretum before, but this was the first time for the trees,” his mother said. “He loves animals.”

The therapy-and education approach of the Goat Project ties in with the Awbury’s mission, though the vegetation management is not unusual. HireGoats.com has listings for grazing services across the United States, Canada, and Australia.

After three days, the Project quickly reached their limit on Christmas recycling.

 “The goats can only eat so many trees,” explained Krivit.

For more. visit phillygoatproject.org/grazing.

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