This part of the park was just recently choked with vines so dense you couldn’t see sunlight between the trees. Now light blasts through the electric fence into an area so bare, it’s like a bomb went off. Thousands of pounds of greenery just disappeared, but only up to the exact height the goats can reach. The foliage starts again about six feet up, at a line of demarcation as eerily straight and consistent as the flood line that marked blocks and blocks of houses after Hurricane Katrina.
“I told you!” was all Morgana said as we disassembled the portable fence and moved her goats to tackle a new green mess.
Though we don’t live on a farm, goats have taken over our lives. Nine months ago, my wife Morgana teamed up with ten of them to found Y’Herd Me Property Maintenance, a goat-powered landscaping firm with which she hopes to clear some of the overgrown spaces that have blighted New Orleans since Katrina.
With more than 40,000 blighted properties measured in 2010, New Orleans is one of the top three most blighted American cities. Mayor Mitch Landrieu claims to have made some progress, but not everyone sees it. “When I look at the Lower Ninth Ward,” NAACP branch president Danatus Kingtold The Advocate, “the weeds are higher than the rooftops. To me, that’s blight. When we talk about…a reduction in blight, to me, I don’t see it.”
As bankrupt Detroit faces its own blight problem, it has turned to goats. When California and Texas needed help with their wildfire issues, they brought in goats to clear dry brush. Even Brad Pitt’s famous Lower Ninth Ward housing charity, Make It Right, built a large trailer called the “Slow Mow” to transport goats around to what is charitably called “green space”: vast tracts of land where neighborhoods once stood. Make It Right didn’t follow through. Still, “New Orleans needs goats,” Morgana tells as many people as her quiet demeanor allows.
We adopted our very first pygmy goat, Chauncey Gardner, a dozen years ago. Morgana seemed to softly will him into existence, much as she would later conjure up Y’Herd Me? It started with: “I want a dog.”
“We don’t enjoy the responsibilities we have,” I vetoed. “You want more?”
Days later she responded, “Then how about a goat?”
Having known Morgana for thirteen years, I see how she shares the quiet, calm nature of goats. She also longs for a more bucolic life to offset the substantial office job she’s maintained for over a decade— a job she dislikes dressing up for, a job that rarely compels her to wear makeup. Given the choice, she’d rather wear overalls and work in the sun. Still, she’s good at the indoor day job because she’s outwardly sweet and patient and she makes things happen. She can talk you into things without much talking. “You know we’ll never mow the lawn ourselves,” she kidded me. “We wouldn’t even have to feed a goat! Let’s go see the farm, just for fun.”
Suddenly, we were in rural Louisiana, watching Chauncey’s birth. “Oh my god!” Morgana exclaimed over Chauncey’s mama screaming. “She’s still trying to eat!” Indeed, between contractions, mama goat continued nibbling at the hay around her. When she was finished, she committed the only carnivorous act we’ve ever witnessed from any goat: She consumed every bite of her afterbirth. Goats never stop eating, but they’re pickier than advertised; Chauncey will consume anything made of paper (birth certificates, $20 bills, rare vinyl record sleeves) and has a weakness for discarded cigarette butts (which the veterinarian said helps to kill internal parasites), and I did once see him swallow a bottle cap (no problem for the “ruminant” species, with its “four stomachs”), but otherwise he is a food snob, preferring only the best fresh greens.
We paid $75 for the infant goat, and Chauncey’s been our amiable silent partner ever since. He even evacuated Hurricane Katrina with us in 2005, riding quietly in our back seat as we traversed America in search of goat-friendly places to stay while we were locked out of our city. We ended up taking refuge for more than a month on an urban farm in Houston, with oblivious sheep and chickens that made the resident goats look smart by comparison. He went on to also survive our daughter’s toddler years, when she would pull his fur and he’d gently knock her down.
More recently, we moved out of the Ninth Ward to a double lot across the river from the French Quarter, the site of a former citrus farm, where Morgana finally had room to hatch Y’Herd Me. CLICK HERE to read the rest of the piece at Narratively…
Or check out this very cute video about the Y’Herd Me project: