Greater Cleveland RTA eyes four sites for lamb/goat grazing

With the help of the grassroots organization Urban Shepherds, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) is in preliminary planning for replacing gas guzzling lawn mowers with lambs and goats at a handful of sites. Representatives from both organizations met last week to discuss the possibilities.

"We have four sites that we've looked at on our properties," says GCRTA's budget management analyst Kari Solomon, tagging a bus-training course in West Park, a former test track (no longer in service) in Kingsbury Loop, a vacant lot at East 55th Street and Euclid Avenue and an area behind the currently-offline Harvard Bus Garage.

"We'll be looking to do West Park some time this summer," says Solomon. "We have about one and a half or two acres there." The remainder of the program will take a little longer to implement.
 
"We'd like to have it in place by 2016, but it depends on the budget," notes Solomon, adding that she foresees mostly lambs doing the heavy lifting, except at one site. "At Kingsbury Loop, we'd probably use goats first to clear it out and then bring in lambs in 2017 or 2018."
 
"Goats are great for clearing vegetation," adds executive director of Urban Shepherds Laura DeYoung.
 
So how many small ruminants does it take to groom a public transit property?
 
"We have some estimates," says Solomon. "We're probably going to look at three lambs per acre or about four or five goats per acre."
 
While Greater Cleveland hasn't transformed into a patchwork quilt of grazing pastures just yet, DeYoung is quick to note that we're gaining on it.

"I want to see sheep everywhere," she says. To that end, Urban Shepherds coordinates training events and provides avenues of information for interested organizations such as GCRTA and residents alike.

"A lot of people have this romantic ideal of raising sheep and goats," says DeYoung. "We're trying to make sure they do it the right way. That's why we're doing this program: so we can give people the information they need and do it themselves."

DeYoung is also head shepherdess at Spicy Lamb Farm, where she tends some 100 ewes, with the help of three sheep dogs (all border collies). She has not, however, quit her day job as an environmental planner at the Northeast Ohio Four County Regional Planning and Development Organization (NEFCO).

"I still work to support my farming habit," says DeYoung.

Other urban grazing projects for which Urban Shepherds has advocated include a site adjacent to the Quay 55 Building and the future North Coast Sheep Farm, plans for which are still tentative.

"The idea behind the Urban Shepherd program is to create something more productive than grass clippings," says DeYoung, adding that saving money on mowing is another obvious benefit. In addition, Mother Nature's mowers of choice aren't picky about where they work, and DeYoung sees potential grazing sites wherever there's green space.

"There's a lot of vacant land and a lot of fields," she says of Cleveland's urban landscape. "Even if the ultimate goal is brick and mortar or housing, grazing is a good interim use."

The least quantifiable benefit of grazing over mowing is perhaps the best.

"It's fun and it creates a sense of place."

Urban Shepherds, in partnership with Spicy Lamb Farm, will host an Urban Shepherds training class on Saturday, May 16 at the farm. Topics will include information on grazing, animal care and fencing. Cost is $35. Lunch is included.

Click here for list of other events at the Spicy Lamb Farm.

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit erinobrien.us for complete profile information.
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