When does it make sense to forgo the modern convenience of the gas-powered lawn mower? It makes sense to “graze” a different path, when, according to Consumer Reports, in one hour, the average riding lawnmower can produce the same emissions as driving a new car 75,000 miles. With the cost of fuel and concerns about the environment rising, rather than using traditional equipment, the County hired sheep and goats for weed control at the County’s Kiefer Landfill where these animals can munch 250 acres more cheaply and efficiently than any machine.
“We compared the costs and benefits to having a landscaping crew do the work and the animals were less expensive and had higher environmental performance,” said the County’s Solid Waste Planner David Ghirardelli. “They have proven to be safer and more effective for vegetative control, and pose less danger to the pipe network for the landfill’s methane gas collection system.”
“Traditional mowing and weed-eating estimates were twice the cost of 1,000 grazing sheep. As part of the Waste Management and Recycling Department’s many green programs, it was an easy decision to make to bring in grazing animals to do the work”, Ghirardelli said
Not only are the grass and weeds unsightly, they can be a significant fire danger. Last year, 1,400 sheep and 300 goats were brought in to tackle the buildup of overgrowth, and the goats’ expertise in taking down woodier vegetation, was needed. This year, only 1,000 sheep were required to do the job because the goats knocked down the more problematic growth the year before.
Additionally, the sheep carefully nibble around the extensive piping and hardware that removes methane gas from the tons of garbage where traditional garden equipment and crews would struggle. Sacramento County has been extracting the waste by-product gas for clean energy since 1999. Roughly 85 percent of the methane generated is collected and sold to Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). The gas produces 14 megawatts of electricity that powers nearly 9,000 Sacramento homes annually! This conversion of a waste by-product to clean energy has reduced Green House Gas (GHG) emissions by more than 4 million metric tons of CO2 – that is equal to removing nearly a half million homes worth of consumed electricity use a year.
“Not only is this a sustainability and dollars-and-cents thing, just seeing the flock-protecting dogs and grazing sheep at the landfill, brings a touch of nature back into our machine and technology driven lives,” said Department Director Paul Philleo.
As a side note, grazing flocks are also used by the Department of Water Resources and Regional Parks along creeks and rivers.
Writer: Brenda Bongiorno, Communication and Media Staff