Guess Who’s Mowing the Lawn?
Airports are using goats and sheep to trim their grass
Goats have been living at San Francisco International Airport for the past eight years. This summer, sheep appeared at an airport in Atlanta. Now, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is looking for its own fuzzy flock.
Why? Airports need a lot of space around the runways where planes take off and land. Grassy fields often surround the runways. Some of America’s biggest airports are near large bodies of water. The soil in these areas is often marshy, which makes the lawns difficult to mow with big machines. But animals like sheep and goats are happy to graze on grass in all kinds of unusual environments—even airports.
“The goats are easier to use than heavy equipment,” says San Francisco International Airport spokesman Michael McCarron. “We expect them to be back next year.”
Unlike big machines, these natural lawn mowers don’t create pollution. They have other environmental benefits too. The sheep used in Atlanta are especially fond of eating invasive plants there, such as kudzu vines. An invasive plant or animal is a non-native species introduced into an environment where it may harm other animals or plants. The sheep in Atlanta are being used specifically to keep these species from spreading.
San Francisco International Airport is home to two threatened species, the garter snake and the red-legged frog. These tiny creatures hide in the grass, where large lawn mowers can hurt them. Goats, though, step carefully through the grass, which helps keep these species safe.
In Atlanta, electric fences are used to keep sheep off the runways. Sheepdogs protect the sheep from predators, like coyotes, that live nearby, and they also help keep the flock of 100 sheep moving together. In addition, the airport employs shepherds to check the flock three times daily to make sure the sheep are munching happily.
Will you soon see sheep at an airport near you? It’s possible! 'O'Hare Airport, Chicago’s largest, is looking for a herder with at least 25 animals to help maintain grass that’s become overgrown with weeds and is tricky to access with lawn mowers. Says Amy Malick of the Chicago Department of Aviation, “Sheep, goats—it could be any grazing animal. We don’t discriminate.”