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Penn Hills Burial Park to use goats for ground clearing efforts

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Lillian DeDomenic | For Trib Total Media
Kaeryn Silvera, who is spearheading the construction of the chicken coop at the Natural burial Park in Penn Hills, goes over blue prints for the structure with Nancy Scubb, Ron Regan and Pete McQullian.
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Lillian DeDomenic | For Trib Total Media
Dave Hoffman, Larry Walter and Ron Regan discuss the construction progress for a barn they are building that will eventually be home to the goats that will graze the grounds of the Natural Burial Park in Penn Hills.

A local cemetery is going green with grazing goats.

The Penn Forest Cemetery, a green burial park in Penn Hills, is building a barn that will house its new eco-friendly lawn mowers — a herd of goats.

“It’s another piece of our sustainability,” grounds manager Pete McQuillin said. “Rather than use conventional things, we’re going to use goat power to clear the brush.”

McQuillin said goats will eat grass and some of the roughest vegetation that grows in the cemetery, including Japanese knotweed and poison ivy, thus eliminating the need for gas powered mowers and landscaping tools.

The burial park is a 36-acre cemetery that features environmentally friendly green burials, which use natural and biodegradable materials. The property already is home to several chickens.

McQuillin said the plans for the barn building have been approved by the municipality and he has received permission to raise goats.

He said his staff will move the goats around the property in fenced off areas where they can graze and clear brush.

McQuillin said he plans to get as many as eight goats for the property and a donkey, which will guard against predators.

He expects his first two goats to arrive in early November.

Goat grazing has had a recent resurgence as property owners in the area have turned to hungry, horned four-legged friends to maintain hard-to-mow land.

Steel City Grazers, a Pittsburgh company established this year, rents goats for landscaping projects.

Carrie Pavlik, who owns the company with her husband, said they plan to increase the company’s number of goats for the 2016 season.

This year they sent their nine goats to 10 jobs across Allegheny County — where the animals nibbled down weeds from residential lots to larger spaces such as the Carrie Furnaces historical site in Rankin.

“They like almost everything,” Pavlik said. “There are some things that are not good for them, and they know not to eat it, like rhododendrons. Otherwise, they eat things we might not expect… even poison ivy and blackberry thorns.”

Goats generally munch for hours, lay in the sun, then start the cycle over again.

A donkey typically accompanies them to frighten away dogs and potentially, coyotes.

Jan Lauer, the district manager of the Allegheny County Conservation District, called goats an old-fashioned solution to a current problem.

She said staff at the conservation district encourages communities and landowners to use them as an alternative to herbicides and equipment.

“Goats are certainly gaining in popularity and are a great choice for removing weeds and vines and even thorny brush and poison ivy, particularly in areas where people cannot, like on steep slopes, near protected areas, or where the vegetation is very dense,” Lauer said. “They even leave behind free fertilizer.”

McQuillin said he attended “goat school” in Maine this past spring and has spoken with Steel City Grazers organizers.

He said several community members have gotten interested in the project and are volunteering to help.

“All these people have showed up who want to help take care of the goats, so we’ve got this little goat club.”

Kelsey Shea is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7845 or [email protected].

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