Bad News Break: Former Dairy Goats Clear Brush in Potrero Hill

As if it's not cute enough, the invasive-plant-eating goats have names like twins Sugar and Spice.

San Franciscans, fear not — an elite team of grazing goats has arrived in Potrero Hill for the week.

The latest round of destructive fires up and down the state, now paired with power shut-offs, has Californians once again learning about how wind, dry brush, and utility poles spark up these recurring nightmares. 

This is where goats come in. Rec and Park commissioned a group of 11 goats from Bayview’s City Grazing to clear brush on the rugged hillside by the Potrero Hill Community Garden. 

Their primary goal, in this case, is to eat up the invasive plants that city workers can’t safely access and that choke up nutrients that native species rely on. About 100 retired dairy goats or rescues who needed homes are part of City Grazing, which deploys them to clear up landscapes and reduce fire risks in the Bay Area.

“When we get our native plants to come back, they grow more harmoniously,” says Genevieve Church, who manages City Grazing. “We give these ladies a mid-life career change.”

City Grazing goats. (Photo by Kevin N. Hume)

Even cuter than goats given new purpose are their volunteer-chosen names. Wombat, Wakanda, Princess, twin goats Sugar and Spice, Doris and Dot are some of the heroes at Potrero Hill this week. Keep a keen eye out for Charmer, a goat named for her constant smile due to her severe underbite.

Goats have high mineral and sodium needs so they naturally gravitate towards plants that need weeding out. Morning glory, fennel, Scotch broom, ivy, and Himalayan blackberries are on the menu this week. 

“The invasive species that are some of the biggest concern in the Bay Area are also some of their favorite foods,” Church says. “They also really love roses.”

Contrary to popular belief, goats can’t eat just anything and are sensitive to some foods. City Grazing and Rec and Park ask people not to feed them — oftentimes, they’ll get stomach aches from too many carrots or apples. They will, however, eat your old Christmas trees.

By the end of the Goat Team 11 operation, native species like poppies will have more breathing room. Another 35 are stationed at Inner Sunset’s Mt. Sutro, owned by UCSF.

The city has deployed the goats before and will continue to do so. At $1,895 for the week, it’s a cheaper, safer, and more efficient option in the case of the Potrero Hill Community Garden says Rec and Park spokesperson Tamara Aparton.

“It’s obviously super cute but it’s also our most effective option when it comes to patches of ground that are inaccessible or unsafe to send people into,” Aparton says. “It’s a win-win.” 

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