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August 08, 2013

Goats Get a Capitol Hill Job

by Rosanne Skirble

While members of the U.S. Congress are on vacation this month, work continues around the U.S. Capitol. Not by Congressional aides, though. A herd of goats was set loose in the Historic Congressional Cemetery to clean up a snarly environmental problem.

The goats came to eat. And, they didn’t lose any time, says handler Brian Knox, who owns a company called Eco-Goats.

“They will eat until midnight and get up and eat at three o’clock in the morning and have something else to eat too," said Knox.

The Historic Congressional Cemetery dates to 1807.  While it’s not officially connected to Congress, the graveyard is the final resting place of some 200 Congressmen and their families, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, composer John Philip Sousa and even a circus performer who was killed by a tiger when in town.

The goats are here to remove the overgrown thicket that blocks a view of the Anacostia River on one end of the property, says Paul Williams, president of the Association for the Preservation of the Historic Congressional Cemetery.   
 
“We brought in the goats because we have an invasive species problem in our wooded area, not in our burial area. But those vines tend to kill the big mature trees and in turn the trees tend to fall on our historic headstones," said Williams.

Williams says that goats are a more ecologically friendly alternative to removing the vines by handcutting, chemicals or heavy equipment.

Knox has 60 goats on the job.

“So the perfect place to put the goats is where you don’t have anything you want to save, because they are pretty indiscriminant. I refer to them as herbicide with legs," he said.

The animals are confined behind electric and chain link fences to keep them off the actual burial ground, which is neatly mowed.  Paul Williams says while the goats aggressively consume the vegetation non-stop, they are also attracting visitors to the historic landmark.     

“It really is bringing people. We’re treating it as an education program to bring people into this beautiful cemetery," he said.

Holly Howe lives nearby and raced over with sons Quinton, Hollis and Harrison to watch the goats at work.

Brian Knox expects his eco-goats to clear the nearly one hectare plot in about a week. By the time Congress gets back in town, they will be long gone and on to another job.