Getting Their Goats
When it comes to a difference of opinion between a herd of goats and mere humans, the cosmic odds-makers bet on the goats every time. They are no fools.
Travelers along any highway in rural Pennsylvania certainly see all kinds of farm animals grazing as they pass by the rolling farmland. But the goats that graze on the Wayne Township landfill in McElhattan have always drawn their share of stares, comments, and attention. After all, there must be a great story about how the goats got there. And that’s only fair, for McElhattan is the hometown of Henry Shoemaker, a collector of Pennsylvania history, first state historian, author, editor, and a teller of tales without equal.
It all started with the Bowman farm, near the landfill on Pine Mountain Road. Jeff Bowman was a neighbor to the landfill as it grew, and his goats always ended up grazing on the landfill property. But in 2004, Bowman needed to move, and the goats were without a home. As they liked the landfill property, Jay Alexander, general manager of the Wayne Township Landfill, proposed that the goats move to their “other home.”
That created a problem. The landfill was zoned industrial—no goats allowed. And the township’s zoning board raised the issue and told the landfill that the goats had to be removed. But the goats had been going to the landfill for years. People were used to it, and enjoyed seeing the herd grazing there. The public was not happy to hear that they were being barred from their favorite spot. The zoning board was discussing holding firm to the ordinance, but, as the Lock Haven Express reported, a voice from the back of the room stated at the end of the meeting, “This isn’t over with yet!” Indeed not. The interest and the pressure from the public did not go away. It wasn’t long before the goats and the public won a new home for the landfill goats. By the end of 2004, the herd was officially transferred to the landfill.
According to Thresa Lingenfelter, environmental coordinator for the facility and one of the goats’ caregivers, twenty goats arrived from the farm, with Walter as head goat in the herd. Walter was in charge for several years, and today his mounted head still keeps watch over his domain. The herd wandered over the entire landfill, grazing.
“Goats are preferential grazers,” says Thresa. “They eat their favorite plants first, then the others. They did a lot of trimming, and reached areas we couldn't." Thresa also debunked a few myths. The goats do not eat cans or garbage, but do eat grass, berries, and shrubs. The goats were not “super friendly”—they did not bother visitors at the landfill, though they did have favorite employees. And although they were out all summer, the entire herd was brought under shelter for the winter.
It seemed the goats had selected a fine home, so they did what goats do—increased the herd. There were as many as thirty babies a year—most given away to raise as 4-H projects. Having the goats inside during the late winter/early spring birthing season increased a little one’s chances, since not all goats are good mothers. In the wild many kids are deserted, or just lost. Some little goats needed special care, whether they arrived too early, or were just too small to stay in the goat shed. For them, it was residency in Thresa’s office, and handfeeding by her and some of the landfill staff.
Before long, the herd was about forty to fifty goats, grazing all 300 acres.
Through 4-H, it was an educational project, but it was also good public relations for the landfill. After all, the traditional perception of a landfill was a dirty, smelly, garbage-filled place. The herd presented the public with possibilities, as more ecologically sound practices allowed the land ll to become pasture again. And people were always interested in the goat herd. Thresa would be stopped by strangers in the mall to ask how they were. Goats were part of the public face at Wayne Township, and a mainstay at the landfill.
Not that they were angels—they were known for some trouble. Many of the scrapes they got into were because of usual goat behavior. Goats love to climb, whether it’s a hill, a car, or even large equipment used at the landfill. And they are nosy animals—they want to know what has moved into their pasture, and what folks were doing to their property. One of the most extreme examples of this was the day a goat climbed up the incline under the Route 220 overpass that cuts the landfill in two. From the top of the inside support, the goat found a way to get higher than any other goat, which is a win in the game “King Goat on the Mountain.” This goat climbed up to the lower support beam of the actual road over the property! But from there, the goat couldn’t get down. A cherry picker was used to rescue the goat from the beam under the bridge.
A major renovation at the landfill was scheduled in 2014, destroying too much of the established pasture to maintain the herd. The goats were relocated to Jay Alexander’s farm in Pennsdale. There Jay, the general manager of the landfill, would care for them and they would live out their days. At least, that was the plan.
But a few of the goats had another idea. As they were rounded up for transport, four jumped the fence and could not be caught. Today, there are three goats left to watch over the landfill, keep tabs on the people and equipment, and just be the goats of Wayne Township’s landfill.