This morning, I came across a pitch from Goat Mowers, a group in Michigan with a clever idea: Rent out goats to people who want large areas mowed, to use a natural, efficient browser instead of a fuel-hog lawn mower or bush hog. Unlike lawn mowers, which convert fossil fuels shipped in from far away into greenhouse gases and other forms of air pollution, goats convert brush into calories and fertilizer with readily accessible nutrients…
and greenhouse gases. Goats are clearly better for the land than lawn mowers, but they’re not perfect. Goats emit methane, which is more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. The truth is that lawn mowers spread “fertilizer” too, in the form of chopped up bits of plants. Chopped up plants are just a slower source of nutrient release, which is actually a good thing, as quick-release fertilizer, such as animal dung, runs off into streams, and flows into rivers, and creates dead zones where the rivers meet the sea.
A far better solution than goats: Come to reconcile yourself with the idea of living near plants that are more than two inches high. Some undergrowth is certainly scrubby-looking, but it’s possible to plant alternatives. Consider native ornamental grasses, or non-invasive nonnative plants, such as chives or siberian irises. Consider planting trees.
Trees can be challenging, because native browsers – deer – can nip their buds back when they’re little. Deer don’t nip at everything, though. In my own yard, I’ve noticed that redbud tree saplings grow without any harassment from the deer. So, this week I’ve transplanted six of them to a place where lawn now dominates. My hope is that, without 5 years, these fast-growing native trees will cover a large patch of land, providing visual interest, and reducing my mowing area.
Not every lawn alternative idea works in every location. Be flexible, and keep trying, and it won’t be necessary to bring in either lawn mowers or goats.