Many ideas have been suggested for how to handle New Orleans’s pervasive blight problem. Reporter Michael Patrick Welch and his wife Morgana believe the answer is goats.
This is the story of how my wife Morgana King entered into a business agreement… with a bunch of goats.
It all began with just one goat, our pet, Chauncey Gardner:
"We were joking about getting a goat instead of a lawn mower, and decided to go look at a farm on the West Bank and visit the goats,” says Morgana. “And it happened that on the day that we were there we saw Chauncey be born and decided to adopt a little baby goat, we’ve had him since he was a week old."
That’s Morgana's short version of how our pet of 11 years — a knee-high pygmy goat now weighing about 70 pounds — first entered our lives. He’s been our amiable silent partner ever since. Chauncey even evacuated Hurricane Katrina with us in 2005, riding calmly in the back seat as we traversed the South, looking for places to stay. We ended up living for a while on a farm in Houston, where we realized how different goats are from other pets.
“They aren’t jumping up on your for food, they live outside,” she says. They don’t have fleas and there’s no barking. They really are pretty self-sufficient and healthy creatures.”
Chauncey has done his job well — keeping our yard so nicely trimmed that Morgana decided she wanted to spread the benefits around to others. But since Chauncey can’t trim the whole world, she recently acquired nine more goats.
I was a little taken aback when she brought home the first new goat, she named Chuck, after her dad.
"Chuck has huge big horns about the size of my arm that curl back from his head, and he looks really scary and intimidating, but he’s really sweet, just wants you to scratch his neck and make sure he gets a lot of attention — more than the other goats,” she says. “He is a bully in that way, that he wants to be first in line and butt everybody else away from the food.”
Chuck came in a pair with a smaller, slightly less friendly blonde girl goat named Caldonia.
In terms of our new herd, Chuck and Caldonia are but the tip of the iceberg… lettuce. There’s also Willy, a miniature pygmy goat whose as small as a Butterball turkey, and Rosita, who won’t let us touch her; she stands high atop our pickup truck while we trim the other goats hooves and whatnot. All ten goats in total make up what Morgana calls Y’Herd Me Property Maintenance, LLC. It comes from a joke we made up when we first got Chauncey: What does a New Orleans goat say? Y’herd me!
While Morgana’s business may seem like an eccentric New Orleans idea, goats have been helpful solving similar problems all over the country.
"In the West, where it’s really dry, they use them to control wildfires, she says. “Then, to control blight in Detroit… Traffic departments have used them on highways to clear roads and hillsides where people have a hard time reaching.”
Though New Orleans is flat, it also remains a nationwide leader in blight. Morgana says after Hurricane Katrina she thought New Orleans would be the perfect place for goats to come in and clear the blighted properties in the Lower 9th Ward and throughout the city.
Morgana’s first Y’Herd Me project has been in Brechtel Park in Algiers, which fell into disrepair after Hurricane Katrina. Enveloped in weeds and vines, the massive park’s wooded areas have grown impassable for humans. Her goats, however, happily chew through Brechtel Park’s mess.
"It’s a pilot project I started with the Department of Parks and Parkways’ support, and they are there for a six-month trial period,” she says. “And since it’s going so well we’re looking forward to continuing the project for the next year.”
For now the goats sleep not at our house — thankfully — but at the park itself. They live on the jobsite and they move from place to place in a trailer that’s their mobile barn. They get put away every night into pens inside the barn, and then let out again in the morning to go to work.
It takes about three weeks for the goats to clear off an acre, but they really clear it. Tons of green materials just vanish. People can walk through the woods again, the vines are all gone, the goats are all full — and everyone is happy. And then the herd is moved to a different location, where their buffet begins anew.
It’s a pretty low overheard operation, cheaper than a human crew. Since word of Y’Herd Me has gotten around the city, the offers have come rolling in.
“I’ve been getting a lot of great inquiries to bring the herd around to other large properties, and I’m definitely open to new opportunities,” Morgana says.
And to think that when my wife first told me her business plan, I thought she was out of her goat-loving mind.