Girl power reigns under Walkway Over the Hudson. A quartet of four female goats known collectively as The Spice Girls — individually as Posh, Sporty, Baby and Bad — are the New York State Bridge Authority’s newest subcontractors, enlisted to live on the land under the Walkway for 12 weeks to clear it of unwanted and overgrown vegetation.
The crew is one of three teams of four goats working in Poughkeepsie. Across Delafield Street from The Spice Girls are another foursome — Princess Fiona, Red, Latte and Panda, the only male in that consortium — and over by Andy’s Place restaurant are “The Jersey Boys.”
Goats are efficient vegetation control experts, eating their way through all manner of invasive species and able to work on rocky or steep slopes where machinery would be difficult to use and where herbicides are unwanted. They consume 25-30 pounds of vegetation per day (some 20 percent of their weight) and they not only don’t shy away from eating poison ivy, they love it, says Larry Cihanek, co-owner with wife, Annlilita, of Green Goats in Rhinebeck.
The couple’s business provides small herds of goats to remove vegetation in an environmentally friendly way at parks, colleges, cemeteries and historic sites in three states. And because the goats eat the regrowth, too, during the season, the plants come back the following year decreased by about 30 percent, Larry says. The Cihaneks’ goats first went to work in 2007 at Fort Wadsworth in New York City to remove plants that were damaging a Civil War gun battery.
Goats have been used before under the Verrazano Bridge to remove overgrowth, says Bridge Authority executive director Joe Ruggiero, but never before in Poughkeepsie. The idea to bring a herd to clear the Walkway land originated at a City Council meeting, he says, when neighbors to the property complained about unsightly overgrowth. The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is responsible for the public aspects of the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Site and the lands on either side of the bridge, but the Bridge Authority has the responsibility to maintain the structure of the bridge and the land under the piers.
And as it turns out, the goats are even a cost-cutting measure, saving the agency more than $8,000 in manpower costs from what was spent last year in seasonal help to do the job, says Ruggiero. (Not that any humans will lose a job over this; it will simply allow those workers to be utilized doing other bridge maintenance and to avoid contact with poison ivy in the bargain.)
The goats have requested to join the union, says Ruggiero with a smile, but that’s up for further discussion. He does point out that perhaps recruiting one goat in particular for homeland security might be a good idea: The first night the goats spent in Poughkeepsie, “Bad Spice” got out and roamed the neighborhood, staying with a neighbor until she was brought back to the chain-link fence enclosure. “She found the weakness in the system,” Ruggiero says. “That might be useful to us.”
Recently New Paltz Times paid a visit to The Spice Girls to find out what’s involved in a day’s work for vegetation control experts.
What’s this we hear about you going out and roaming the neighborhood, Bad?
I just wanted to scope out where the good places to eat are. Don’t you do that when you move to a new neighborhood?
I guess I do. What is your favorite type of vegetation to consume?
Besides poison ivy? I enjoy good Japanese knotweed, and porcelain-berry; it’s a really tasty, woody vine, but people don’t like it because it takes over everything on their land. A little climbing bittersweet is always nice, too. In any case, we prefer to reach upward for leafy vegetation; we like that a lot more than grass. We can reach anything within about six feet from the ground.
Really! I always thought goats liked to eat grass.
Shows what you know. Just ask our friends, Annlilita and Larry; they’ll tell you. And we’ll chew on stuff to check it out, but we don’t really eat newspaper. So we won’t be eating your words.
Good to know. How old are you Spice Girls, by the way? And what do you weigh?
How old… oh, never mind. Let me ask Sporty.
We’re all three years old. And we each weigh at least 200 pounds.
(She gets “the look” from Bad.)
Well, we do.
So Sporty, what would you be doing for a living if not this?
I have a friend who works at a petting zoo, but I don’t know if I would really like doing that myself; I like to be more active. Maybe when I retire.
What personal attributes do you think are necessary to do your work?
Be born a goat. And be hungry.
How did you get into this line of work?
We were driven here in a truck.
Let’s see what Baby has to say. Baby, do you think these people in Poughkeepsie will be hard to work for?
Is it hard work?
Is there any other job you’d rather have?
Posh, can you help me out, here, please?
Baby hasn’t learned her words yet.
What do you like most about the job, Posh?
Working locally. It was a much shorter drive to get here than we usually have when we go down to the city or to Jersey.
Was there formal training involved to learn the job?
Very funny. What makes for a good day on the job?
Fresh greens and time to take a nap.
And a bad day?
Working through lunch.
Is there anything about you that people would be surprised to know?
I have an undergrad degree in environmental science and I’m working on my master’s to become an environmental engineer.
No! Of course not. Gee, you’re more literal than Sporty.
What will The Spice Girls be doing when this contract is over?
We’re laid off over the winter. We’ll just enjoy our lives at the farm and catch up on what everyone else has been doing all summer and fall. Larry and Annlilita will feed us hay and grain until spring comes again. Then we’ll go back out.
What advice would you give someone going into your field?
Find your own field.
Posh! I heard that goats are very friendly.
Okay, okay. Just kidding. We are, actually, and we like constant companionship. I’m just messing with you. The more the merrier for us when it comes to welcoming other goats to our field. I guess the answer to your question is, ‘There’s always more room in the field and new fields to explore.’