Our urban landscapes can begin to look like the metaphorical jungles with which they’re often compared when dilapidation or neglect accumulate in neighbourhood plots. Clearing or restoring overgrown and forgotten land parcels can be a headache-inducing mire of bureaucracy and an eyesore that blights a community for years. A project in Bristol is seeking to marry the issues of urban blight and sustainability with an inventive, and adorable, approach – goats!
Goats are natural browsers when it comes to food. This means, unlike their cow and sheep cousins, they pass over grass in favour of leaves, soft shoots, fruits and woody plants. What goats do share with cows and sheep, is they are all ruminants, and love to eat the tough plant matter that is indigestible to other animals. Pair this with their curious nature, and a goat will eat just about anything closely resembling a plant to see if it tastes good. Goats have been knows to chew through cardboard, paper, clothing and even the odd tin can, so see if it suits its palate. The Bristol project, known as Street Goat, saw the potential in using goats to clear up unproductive land in and around the city, while also forging better communities. Archeological evidence suggests that humans may have been domesticating goats since the Neolithic era (over 10,000 years ago) and so our bond with these creatures is strong.
Street Goat uses the animals in an urban, farming cooperative approach, with the goal to connect communities to sustainable food production and regenerative land management. By developing a network of community projects, local people come together to collectively manage and care for the goats. As one local participant observed, “It has brought together groups of people who wouldn't normally meet as more people came up to see the goats. People pulled together to help look after the goats, which created a sense of pride for having them there. Children got involved in something which they probably knew nothing about.”
The goats provide much more than a sustainable clean up crew for urban overgrowth. The nannies produce milk, which can also be turned into cheese, while the larger herd also contributes fibre and meat to meaningful, local production. This promotes food sovereignty for the people of Bristol, and gives more people access to healthy food, produced in a thriving, environmental way. On many other continents, goat is the most widely consumed red meat, with roughly 63% of the world’s population consuming goat, and it is nutritionally leaner than beef or chicken, making it a healthier choice for meat eaters. Once the goats have done their job of clearing land, it can then be turned back to horticultural use, making it a doubly advantageous scheme.
Street Goat is mutually beneficial for the goats and people involved. The project began in 2015 with a handful of goats named Audre, Blossom, their kids and several orphans. Some goats may arrive underweight, in poor health, or may otherwise not have a home. The female milking goats contribute to a community run dairy, that currently produces milk for 30 households, that is natural, sustainable and affordable. Families take an active role in the dairy, and gain all the therapeutic benefits from working with the goats in the process. To make the dairy side work, each person in the milking collective pays a contribution and takes on milking shifts. This entitles them to a share of the milk. The goats are milked every morning and afternoon, totaling 14 shifts a week. There is one person for ever goat on shift, and it works out that everyone pays around a £1 for a liter of milk. At this price, far less than milk of the same quality from a supermarket, Street Goat has ample budget for feed, general repairs, and maintenance.
Other goats may have the unlucky fate of being male. In commercial production, this destines most of them straight to the slaughter at birth. Street Goat takes the male kids and the community nurtures and looks after them to their full capacity, health and productive lifespan until they can produce sustainable meat. When they reach maturity, usually between 12-18 months, they are taken to a local abattoir to be humanly slaughtered. The meat is then available for sale directly to the community that cared for them. This production raises goats on various plots of urban and peri-urban land, such as, brownfield sites or overgrown allotments, bringing acres of allotments considered ‘unlettable’ back into use for vegetable production. Street Goat has collaborated with local councils to graze nature reserves overgrown with ivy and bramble, encouraging a wider diversity of wildflower to grow in the Spring. A community spirit of ‘goat herders’ comes together to collectively manage the herds in their local areas. This connects families and individuals with the joys of working with animals and nature, giving urban dwellers the opportunity to be part-time farmers. Many urban families wish that they could move to the countryside, but modern life and finances make this impossible for most. Street Goat is a way that people from all backgrounds can become more connected to food and farming, and contribute to an improved standard of living and a decreased environmental impact of their food.
Street Goat strives to ensure their goats all live happy, healthy, natural lives. It enriches a community and improves local, urban spaces so they can be useful, productive spaces once more for the people who reside among them. The scheme is always on the look out for opportunities to start new dairies and has yet to launch a site near or in London. Could your neighbourhood be home to the next community of urban goat-herders? Street Goat is keen to hear from anyone with a suitable site in mind or keen to get a community involved.
Text adapted from Street Goat’s official site.