First, I’d like to apologize for being absent from the blog for over a month. Due to a move into a new home across town, I had to put my cemetery hopping and blog writing activities on hold for a while. I’m still unpacking boxes but for the most part, we’re settled in.

To stay sane, I did continue my volunteer duties over at Decatur Cemetery. I’ve been helping out in their office since the fall, trying to be there at least one morning a week. As a result, I’ve grown even more affectionate toward the place and feel quite at home there.

The cemetery boasts a variety of wildlife, from birds to squirrels to rabbits. I’ve not seen a deer yet. The Canada geese leave their “deposits” here and there. But the birds that always get my attention are the large raptors that hover over the grounds. One day I witnessed a hawk almost carry off a tiny puppy but thankfully, the dog’s owner pulled it to safety in time.

This is typical of what you'll find me doing out at Decatur Cemetery on any given Tuesday. I check what's on the grave markers with what's on the old index cards and in the computer records.

This is typical of what you’ll find me doing out at Decatur Cemetery on any given Tuesday. I check what’s on the grave markers with what’s on the old index cards and in the computer records.

But it wasn’t until recently that I actually saw sheep on the premises.

Before you start thinking that Decatur Cemetery has become a farm, let me explain. They’ve been dealing with some overgrown vegetation on the far side of the cemetery that was fairly entrenched. We’re talking a mini wilderness. To hire workmen to get rid of it would have been costly and actually risky since much of it is on a steep hillside. Operating mowers on ground that’s so uneven is not a great idea.

So they decided to hire cheap labor that would work outrageous overtime and for very low pay. Dirt cheap, in fact. They tried it first in 2013 and the sheep did so well that they again contacted a company called Ewe-niversally Green to bring them back.

This may seem like a novel concept, but hiring someone with sheep or goats to clear large swaths of overgrown lots or acreage is not a new concept. Other cemeteries have been doing it for a while. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport used the same sheep to take care of brush along their fifth runway.

The most recent example that got media attention was in 2013 when Congressional Cemetery hired a flock of goats to remove the thick growth of poison ivy that was wrapped around many of its trees. According to the cemetery staff, the more ivy smothers the trees, the heavier the trees get and the more susceptible they are to crashing down, which could damage gravestones. The ivy’s leaves also can interfere with the trees’ photosynthesis, killing them.

Maryland-based company Eco-Goats brought over some hungry goats to take care of the tenacious ivy choking trees at Washington's Congressional Cemetery. Photo by Linda Davidson/the Washington Post.

Maryland-based company Eco-Goats brought over some hungry workers to take care of the tenacious ivy choking trees at Washington’s Congressional Cemetery. Photo by Linda Davidson/The Washington Post.

According to a Washington Post article, the cost of hiring the 50 or so goats to take care of the problem was around $4,000. That may seem like a lot but it’s actually a better option than using machinery. The goats require no fossil fuels and their waste provides fertilizer for the grounds. The gravestones and monuments are also left undisturbed. This graphic from USAToday does a good job at explaining it.

I was curious to find out what the difference is between sheep and goats in terms of efficiency. Which is better? Are they different in what they eat? Here’s what I found out.

Goats are natural browsers that like to eat leaves, twigs, vines, and shrubs. They are quite agile and will stand on their hind legs to reach vegetation. So they were an apt choice to eat the ivy at Congressional Cemetery. Sheep, on the other hand, are grazers. They prefer to eat short, tender grasses and clover.

These sheep are taking care of the grass at St. Patrick's Old Cathedral in SoHo. They're brought in from a farm in upstate New York. Photo by WABC-TV.

These sheep are taking care of the grass at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in SoHo in New York City. They’re brought in from a farm in upstate New York. Photo by WABC-TV.

In both situations, these plant-loving animals are kept within a low-current electric fence and watched over by a trained dog of some sort. Both are used as a means of protecting the animals from predators and keeping them focused on their task. Goats, I read, can be more curious than sheep and are more apt to seek an escape.

So when my partner in crime, Jenny, and I were working a few weeks ago, we decided to check up on the sheep to see what they were doing. With the heat and humidity being so instense, they weren’t really doing much of anything at the time.

This is not the first time Decatur Cemetery hired sheep to take care of overgrown acreage. They did it in 2013 with successful results.

This is not the first time Decatur Cemetery hired sheep to take care of overgrown acreage. They did it in 2013 with successful results.

On the day I visited the sheep, it was a typically hot and humid one. They seemed uninclined to do much and I can't blame them for it.

On the day I visited the sheep, it was a typically hot and humid one. They seemed disinclined to do much and I can’t blame them for it.

As you can see, the sheep are quite close to the gravestones and monuments. A graveside service took place close by that day but the sheep were respectfully quiet.

As you can see, the sheep are quite close to the gravestones and monuments. A graveside service took place nearby that day but the sheep were respectfully quiet.

A low current electric fence surrounds the sheep to protect them from predators. It looks like these two are trying to say, “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along!”

It might surprise you to learn that even you and I can affordably hire sheep or goats to clear unwanted brush from property. Someone in my old neighborhood did it earlier in the year for a few days. Just be prepared for some spectators because they seem to bring out the inner animal lover in many people, including me.

I only saw one of the dogs from a distance at Decatur during my second visit the following week. Three of the dogs are featured on Ewe-niversally Green’s website.

Pete, Big Boy Clyde and Maestro are three of Ewe-niversally Green's shepherd dogs in charge of guarding the sheep.

Pete, Big Boy Clyde and Maestro are three of Ewe-niversally Green’s shepherd dogs in charge of guarding the sheep. They are serious about their work. Photo borrowed from the Ewe-niversally Green website.

So if you happen to hear some odd sounds coming from a cemetery the next time you visit, don’t worry. It’s not zombies or ghosts. It just might be some local livestock hungrily taking care of the landscaping.

Photo by Decatur Metro.

Photo by Decatur Metro.

 

 

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