Goatscaping at Congressional Cemetery (Podcast 56)
Ammons: Welcome to the Preservation technology Podcast, the show that brings you the people and projects that are advancing the future of America’s heritage. I’m Kevin Ammons with the National Park Services’ National Center for Preservation Technology and Training. Today we join NCPTT’s Jason Church as he speaks with Margaret Puglisi, Vice president of Congressional Cemetery about their recent goat grazing project.
Puglisi: So Congressional Cemetery was trying to figure out the best solution to some unmaintained land that was just south of our gate. We were having invasive vines choking out the tree growth and the trees were dying and falling on the monuments, so this is a really serious problem when you have a site that has 206 year old gravesites.
Church: So what sort of solution did you guys come up with?
Puglisi: Well we looked at various factors that we needed to consider. We had environmental impact, we had our societal impact because we have a canine dog walking membership so we have a lot of animals on site and we also needed to make sure that the monuments were considered. So we chose between mechanical, chemical, human or grazing which would be the goats and we came to the goats because there wasn’t an adverse impact on any of the conditions we were looking at and it also worked out better for costs.
Church: So you looked at mechanical and what sort of adverse effects did that have?
Puglisi: Well it’s using fuel and also in the case that we had at Congressional, there’s a large ravine and it is such dense overgrowth, there’s large trees, there’s large logs down, it would have been pretty hard for that. Also that wouldn’t have really killed anything because the seeds would still be there. With the goats, their digestive tracts decompose the seeds.
Church: So now you said you also looked at a chemical possibility but you decided against that. So what sort of chemicals did you look at and what was the decision there.
Puglisi: Well it was mostly herbicides and as we all know that’s really bad for headstones but then we also had the run off to consider and into the Anacostia River because it is so close and we had our dogs to worry about. We’re fond of them and we don’t want anything to happen. So it was cost and it was prohibitive with our considerations that we wanted to adhere to.
Church: So you decided on the grazing option.
Puglisi: Uh huh.
Church: Historically, had there ever been grazing at Congressional Cemetery?
Puglisi: We don’t have any record of it.
Church: Where did you, how do you go about finding a troup of goats?
Puglisi: Well there’s actually a company called Sustainable Resource Management and they have a large herd of goats. They’re called the eco goats and this is what they do, they get sent around all over the place to eat invasive vines and take care of areas. The week following that they were hanging out in Congressional Cemetery, they were headed to the beach. So they clear out some of these yards.
Church: A little goat vacation. Okay.
Church: And this may sound like an odd question, are there specific types of goats that work better for this?
Puglisi: There are a whole wide variety of goats that came. We had pygmy goats, we even had, I think his name was Larry, he was almost as tall as me whose had a large differentiation of what they’re appetites were. They sent goats that liked kudzu, liked poison ivy, apparently they have different tastes so he had to kind of put them together to make sure that we had all of our plants taken care of and also they had unique personalities. I became very attached to a little brown pygmy goat named Weird Al.
Church: Nice. I would not have considered that they had names. That’s nice. Alright so now did you let them run freely through Congressional Cemetery or were they contained?
Puglisi: They were contained on the exterior of the cemetery. There was only one time that we let one out and I picked Weird Al to go with me so that we could do some photo shoots where there were headstones in the background, but he was on a short tether and he was really only interested in the grass. So they were on a one and a half acre tract of land that was outside of the cemetery gate.
Church: How many goats do you think were in this project?
Puglisi: We had fifty-eight.
Church: Fifty-eight goats for one and a half acres?
Puglisi: Uh huh.
Church: What was our time frame? How long were they actually in the cemetery during the day?
Puglisi: They were there the whole time for eight days. Towards the end of the last day, they, Brian is the name of their guardian, he came and he got half of them and took them to the next project because they were doing so well they were losing finds to eat and he didn’t want them to get bored. So they eat everything from about all the way up to about six feet.
Church: So it took that time period for them to clear the one and a half acres, so if you were for some reason looking at a larger site, would you increase the goat population or do you think you would just have them do their job for longer periods of time?
Puglisi: I think it was a good number of goats. I think if you just gave them a little bit more time they would be able to accomplish the goal.
Church: Of course one of the immediate questions everyone has about the goats is what about waste management?
Puglisi: So they were not within our gates so that wasn’t really a problem for us but it’s fertilizer. I’ve actually heard people who say that while the invasive vines are there and the dense growth, wild flowers aren’t able to grow but you know with the fertilization, if there are seeds there, they pop up the next spring so we’re hoping to see that.
Church: Yeah, I guess the lack of competition now and the new fertilizer.
Puglisi: Right. Yeah.
Puglisi: I’ve never seen people so excited about goats. We appealed to the public, the neighbors, the social media, we were on Al Jazeera, it must have been a slow week in politics because we had so many different media sources, international and national. We had school groups, it was really educational. People found a lot of different values and benefits from it.
Church: Now I’ve heard from you that it was successful and that you were very happy with the results, what about cost effectiveness? How do you feel that worked into the factor?
Puglisi: Our president actually did the math and figured out it was about twenty-five cents per goat to be out there. That’s pretty low manual labor rate and they did a great job in a timely fashion so.
Church: Yeah you can’t beat twenty-five cents. Okay. Do you think this something that the cemetery would ever consider for the inside grounds, inside the gates?
Puglisi: It would have to be, we’d have to put a little more consideration into it. We don’t really have the invasive problem within the cemetery so my concern would be that they would get bored and not be focused on eating and would climb on the headstones and that would not be worth the risk.
Church: Now I know you mentioned briefly before Congressional Cemetery has a very famous dog walking park, you have the K-9 Corps. Tell us a little bit about them?
Puglisi: They’re actually the reason I would say that we’re so successful because they create an environment that people want to come in, there’s people there, they’re smiling and they started in the nineties. They were tasking themselves to mow the lawn because we were in such a state of abandonment. They were just a really strong presence on our site and…
Church: …and people pay a subscription to become members…
Puglisi: Yeah, they pay an annual membership and that goes directly towards our conservation of headstones.
Church: And is the cemetery available 24/7 for the dogs?
Puglisi: Uh hum, yeah so that also makes a really good security feature with our dog walkers there, they know when something is going on and they’re very happy to tell us if they see some suspicious activity.
Church: Now how did your very well-known dogs get along with your now very well-known goats?
Puglisi: Towards the beginning the goats were a little bit afraid of the dogs but we had a chain link fence between them and we asked the dog walkers to keep the dogs away because they weren’t familiar with dogs but by the end of the week, I think that the goats were a little bit more intimidating to the dogs after they realized that the dogs couldn’t get to them. They wouldn’t run away from the fence anymore, they would stand and nay and talk to the dogs.
Church: Is this a treatment, does the cemetery plan to repeat this in the future and if so how often do you think you might need to repeat it?
Puglisi: Right. So we have many other places that we could put the goats where there are areas with invasive vines and dying trees so we could do it all around the cemetery really. We’re thinking every two years it will be possible to fund it to bring them in.
Church: Now will there need to be treatments to the invasive species between that period or do you think an every two year cycle will be enough?
Puglisi: We’ll have to have a crew go in and chop down the actual, they only eat the green foliage so we’d have to have somebody come in and chop down the rest of the bushes to keep them low.
Church: Is this something you would recommend to other sites as well?
Puglisi: I would as long as you’re able to protect the monuments. If the goal is to save the monuments from dying trees you don’t want to inflict more damage by having goats climbing on them.
Church: So what projects does Congressional have coming up now?
Puglisi: Right now we have, we received a $50,000 grant from Partners in Preservation and right now we’re working on the restoration of our mausoleum row of roofs and in that we’re fixing the drainage system, making sure that they’re water tight and also applying a live roof which we are going to put, we have six beehives at the cemetery so we’re going to put them on the live roofs and the circle of feeding the bees and the bees pollinating the flowers should be a good combination.
Church: Now we’re there live roofs there traditionally?
Puglisi: Grass on them and then I would say probably somewhere in the seventies, eighties, they paved it in concrete which is causing a lot of trouble with the interior and drainage.
Church: Now are you going to remove the concrete that’s currently there put on in the seventies and eighties?
Puglisi: Yes and we actually have Worcester Eisenbrandt is our contractor. We have an annual “Day of the Dog” where we have vendors set up, we put up an obstacle course, we have a lot of dog adoptions typically and it’s just a day to have the community come in.
Church: When is that?
Puglisi: That’s August 30th.
Church: And is that open to the public or just the dog walkers…
Puglisi: Open to the public, yes.
Church: Open to the public, alright.
Puglisi: It’s a good time to visit us and see if your dog enjoys running around then you might be interested in membership.
Church: Well thank you for talking to us Margaret about all of the animals of Congressional Cemetery. It’s gotten quite the reputation for it’s animals and quite the star goats recently so we look forward to finding out what you guys are doing in the future.
Puglisi: Thank you.
Ammons: Thank you for listening to today’s show. If you would like more information, check out our podcast show notes at ncptt.nps.gov. Until next time, good bye everybody.