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When Susan Gibbs’ lawnmower died a painful death days before she’d planned a massive outdoor party at her Palmyra, Va. farm, she thought she was out of options. Then it hit her: With dozens of sheep on her property, it didn’t make sense why she couldn’t put them to some other use than providing woolly mittens for the winter.
“I realised it was silly to be mowing myself when I could just let the sheep out,” she said. “We started letting them out to graze and it worked great.”
Though sheep-run lawn care initially gained ground in western states like California, it’s starting to boom on the East Coast.
Homeowners like Gibbs have taken nature’s little lawnmowers and used them to cut costs on fuel and lawn care services — all while keeping harmful herbicides from the environment.
Gibbs previously dropped $115 per week on a lawn care service and now only spends what she needs on the flock’s housing and vet costs, she said.
Bonus: Cuddly sheep make a heck of a lot less noise than a bunch of gas-guzzling mowers prowling the yard for hours.
“For [my family], it’s also about the time saved as well as the money,” she said. “It just makes a lot of sense and I also try not to put a lot of chemicals out in the world if I can help it. Sheep fertilize as they go, which is so much better for the environment.”
It’s better for your bank account too, said Brian Cash, a full-time shepherd and co-founder of Ewe-niversally Green (pronounced “universally”).
Cash’s business is one-of-a-kind in Atlanta, Ga., where he and his partners rent sheep to homeowners, businesses and public agencies. With his flock of 200 ewes, his team is able to stamp out invasive plants species like poison ivy and kudzu and keep lawns perfectly manicured for a fraction of the cost of regular lawn services.
“We find that we typically cost [consumers] three-quarters less than the cost of using herbicides,” Cash said. “And we save them the man hours that go into putting herbicides out and trying to avoid running in to poison ivy, snakes and spiders.”
An average job on a home varies depending on several factors, Cash said, and can take anywhere from one to three days.
If you’re considering using sheep to keep your lawn nice and neat, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Make it a community effort. Many of Cash’s customers are subdivisions or neighborhoods that pool their resources and hire his sheep to move from lawn to lawn. The sheep love the rotating buffet, and homeowners get a kick out of watching them work. You’ll also save a lot more than hiring a shepherd on your own.
Make sure it’s legal. Some municipalities have zoning laws that ban livestock from properties without proper permits. Ask your homeowners association first or hit up your city councilman.
Call for an estimate. Businesses like Ewe-niversally Green will visit your land for free and give you an estimate. They’ll take into consideration the size of the property, what type of plants you’re looking to nip in the bud, and how many ewes it will take to get the job done.
Try not to get too attached. Yes, they are cute and cuddly and will make you coo like a fool, but after a few days, the sheep will eventually move on to—literally—greener pastures. Cash said some homeowners throw barbecues while the flock is on site just to take advantage of the spectacle.
“We find most of our homeowners want [the sheep] there for more than just 24 hours,” he said. “People are always sad to see them go.”
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