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updated: 5/12/2013 8:40 PM

O'Hare to use sheep, goats to keep grass, weeds at bay

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  • Daily Herald File Photo A herd of goats and sheep will go where conventional mowers can't go to trim grass at O'Hare.

      Daily Herald File Photo A herd of goats and sheep will go where conventional mowers can't go to trim grass at O'Hare.

 
 

A herd of goats and sheep is ready for a beatdown of inaccessible O'Hare grass.

The city of Chicago announced Wednesday it's turning to four-legged assistants to keep turf trim at O'Hare International Airport.

About 25 goats and sheep will start chomping on hard-to-access grass and weeds at O'Hare this summer under a two-year contract with Central Commissary Holdings. The contract is for up to $100,000.

The innovation will save money on traditional landscaping costs and cut down on the need for herbicides and disposal of clippings, Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino said.

The goats and sheep under the supervision of a shepherd will be put to work on about 120 acres of dense, scrubby vegetation on four sites located on hilly areas along creeks and streams. The terrain is problematic for traditional mowers but airport officials think the animals will be more than a match.

"We've got some rocky terrain and some embankments that are harsh on our equipment," Andolino said. "By putting in the goats, they're able to do the work and provide an eco-friendly way to meet our maintenance needs."

Although it's a pilot project, "we're hoping for a win-win; we had great success with our bees," she added, referring to an on-site apiary tended by ex-offenders that produces honey and skin-care products.

And lest anyone worry that Boeing 767s and MD-80s inadvertently will cull the herd, officials said the grazing sites are away from the airfield and fenced off.

Andolino said keeping grass trimmed is essential at airports to discourage smaller wildlife that in turn can be prey for large birds including hawks that could interfere with air traffic.

The aviation department hosts an annual Airports Going Green sustainability conference where airports share ideas for ecological innovation and that gave rise to the idea, Andolino said. Although it's a first for the Chicago airspace, goats and sheep have been used at other airports including Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

"We want to be the most sustainable airport in the country," Andolino said. "When we can reduce emissions and our carbon footprint and use more natural mechanisms to deliver on our goals -- we will."

O'Hare also has 12 buildings with green roofs and an aeroponic garden, which involves growing plants without soil, in Terminal 3 that provides vegetables for airport restaurants.

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