Nashville’s water department is trying a new kind of outsourcing. Maintenance of a three-mile levee around MetroCenter has been handed over to a herd of goats.
“Come on, girls,” Josh Delozier says as he rattles a bucket of corn feed, grabbing the attention of the 105 goats that are deployed for the next two months.
Delozier erected a temporary electrified fence around a four-acre section. He plans to work his goats along the steep slope that protects a major office park from the Cumberland River.
“This is what they’re designed to do," he says. "They love these hills.”
Delozier says he will saw down anything his goats miss. The city contract is the largest job to-date for his three-year-old company, Goat Guys, based in Nolensville.
Goat grazing is becoming a popular replacement for mowing in areas where the final product doesn't have to be pristine. But in Nashville, the mundane munching along a popular greenway has become a spectacle.
“This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” says retiree Tony Burdick, who stopped to take a photo.
Burdick rides his bike atop the levee nearly every day. He recalls how last year, it took bushhogs and chainsaws to tame the hillside.
“They had men working here for weeks. So I think using goats is a very clever idea,” he says.
Keeping the brush knocked down is not about aesthetics. It’s a safety issue, says Sonia Allman with Metro Water Services.
“You’re wanting to always make sure there’s not any type of erosion, there’s not any type of landslide, there’s not any type of sink hole. There aren’t any big trees that could be compromising [the levee]," she says. "And it’s difficult to do when it’s completely overgrown.”
The need for a clear view was never more apparent than in the May 2010 floods, when the MetroCenter levee began to erode because of saturation* and had to be monitored by helicopter.
The city has had some trouble keeping the levee up to Army Corps of Engineer standards in recent years. Allman says the Corps has requested the removal of additional trees.
The goats are meant to be a sustainable and cost-effective solution. At $38,000, they’re a steal compared to paying $100,000 twice a year for a human crew.
“I mean, it’s a huge cost savings," Allman says. "So everything we have seen is a true benefit.”
*This line has been edited from the original version to accurately reflect the level of damage to the levee during the 2010 flood.