Passengers flying out of San Francisco International Airport recently might have caught a glimpse of something bizarre: goats munching away at overgrown weeds.
Mr Fuzzy, Cookie, Mable, Alice and nearly 400 other goats were chomping on brush as part of the airport’s unique — and environmentally friendly — approach to fire prevention.
Airports are mini cities, often with their own firefighters, baristas, doctors and even priests.
But goat herders?
Brush in a remote corner of the airport property needs to be cleared each spring to protect nearby homes from potential fires. However, machines or humans cannot be used because two endangered species — the San Francisco garter snake and the California red-legged frog — live there.
So for the past five years, the airport has turned to Goats R Us, which charged US$14,900 for the service this year.
“When passengers takeoff and fly over the goats, I’m sure that’s a thrill,” said Terri Oyarzun, who owns and runs the goat-powered brush removal company with her husband Egon and their son Zephyr.
The goats travel 50km each spring from their home in Orinda, California, to the airport in a 16-wheel truck that Oyarzun calls her “livestock limo.” With the help of a goat herder and a Border Collie named Toddy Lynn, the goats spend two weeks cutting away a 6m firebreak on the west side of the airport.
When Oyarzun’s goats are not clearing brush at the airport, they are busy doing similar work on the side of California’s freeways, at state parks, under long-distance electric lines and anywhere else with overgrown vegetation. The family has about 4,000 active goats.
Working at an airport does come with its own set of challenges, namely loud, frightening jets constantly taking off.
“There was an adjustment period, but they have a lot of confidence in their herder,” Oyarzun said.
At least one other airport has taken note. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport has requested bids for goats to clear brush in a remote area of the airport’s 2,800 hectare property and expects a herd to be at the airport sometime this summer.
When goats become too old to work, they are typically sold for meat.
However, fear not: Mr Fuzzy, Cookie, Mable and Alice will not end up at the slaughterhouse.
The Oyarzun family lets their goats peacefully retire at their farm.
At least one part of air travel is still humane.