By JULIE WASHINGTON
The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer
SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio (AP) — A young woman sitting on a lawn chair, watching her goats munch the grass in front of a Shaker Heights church, is sure to attract attention.
Motorists slow down and stare. Dog walkers pull on leashes to stop their dogs from charging over. Curious people, not expecting to see a farm animal in the city, ask goatherd Harriet Abigail Ward, 17, if her animals are small deer or large dogs.
Harriet Abigail answers politely. But what she really longs to say is, “I hope it isn’t a dog. I didn’t buy a dog!”
She and her pet Nigerian dwarf goats, Cas and Anna, are part of an experiment in all-natural ways to mow a lawn. First Unitarian Church of Cleveland, whose congregation focuses on issues surrounding climate change, hired the goats as an eco-friendly way to cut the grass on its large property.
She and her mother, Bethany Ward, run EverAfter LLC Goat Rental, a home business that rents out the goats to cut grass and clear weeds. Ward is director of religious education at the church.
After making sure the idea met with the city of Shaker Heights’ approval, Harriet Abigail and her goats went to work at First Unitarian, 21600 Shaker Blvd., in late June.
The plan is for the goats to stay for about three weeks, working on just the church’s east lawn. The goats are gaining fresh pasture, and the church gets an eco-friendly way to manage its lawn, Ward said.
“It’s a win-win solution,” said Ward.
Her goat rental company charges $45 for a five-hour day.
Tom Gibson, a member of the church’s ministry for the earth committee, worked to set up the goats’ trial run. He thinks the animals are a good substitute for mechanical grass mowing.
“They add fertilizer with their manure, which is easily compostable,” Gibson said. “If we expand the herd, we could eliminate the cost of mowing, which goes into the thousands of dollars. We would save on costs for the church and of course save on fossil fuel.”
Ward and Harriet Abigail transport the goats to the church from their Bath Township home on weekdays. The goats are staked on long leads so that they concentrate on eating the grass in just one area. When they’ve done the job, Harriet Abigail moves the stakes to a new area.
The teenager makes sure they have fresh water and don’t get tangled in the leads.
“Their favorite food is clover — next to poison ivy, which is one of their favorite foods,” said Harriet Abigail, who is home schooled and will be a senior year this fall.
She fell in love with goats when she saw some cute kid ones at a farmers market and sniffed wonderful-smelling soap made from goat milk. She’s been raising the animals for about three years.
The goats spent a recent morning at the church playfully head-butting each other, nibbling on a visitor’s sandals and cuddling with Harriet Abigail. Families arriving for a sign-language class at the church made a detour so that kids and goats could meet.
“I’m so excited! Do we usually get to see goats? Not in the middle of our neighborhood,” said Carmen Kottha of Shaker Heights. Kottha encouraged her son Den, 3, to pet the goats.
“At first, I thought it was a dog,” Kottha said.
The church worked with Daniel Feinstein, senior planner with the city of Shaker Heights, to get permission to hire the company with the goats. City law would apply only if the goats needed a shed or created a nuisance, or if a fence was constructed to hold the goat, Feinstein explained in an email. Since the goats are tethered, there was no need for a fence or shed.
Feinstein called First Unitarian’s goats-for-mower swap “an interesting alternative.” When he visited the goats last week, “it seemed quiet and pastoral, and the smaller goat has a great personality,” Feinstein wrote in an email.
“If (the city) think it’s OK, the neighbors don’t object,” Gibson said.
Ward and Gibson believe that the goat experiment fits perfectly with Unitarian Universalist beliefs about the interdependent web of existence and relationships between human and animals.
“You can have more of relationship with (goats) than you could have with a lawn mower,” Ward said.