They might not be as fast, but goats offer several advantages over diesel-powered lawnmowers. They’re quieter, they emit fewer greenhouse gases, and they fertilize soil as they go for no extra charge. They can easily climb slopes where mowers can’t reach, and can clear thick brush without the help of herbicides. City Grazing of San Francisco has capitalized on the benefits of goats, and leases out their 50-member herd for landscaping needs around the city.
These back-to-the basics of landscapers who replace mowers with goats, or farmers who replace tractors with horses, represent an unusual trajectory for the Hierarchy of Technology.* Technologies normally become accepted and widely-used before they are superseded by new technologies and sink out of sight. Except for meat production, livestock has largely lost out to machinery in industrialized settings. In a time where oil was cheap and global warming unknown, goats and horses were clearly obsolete. But in other contexts – greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion, cuteness – it becomes clear that old-fashioned, four-legged technologies can become cutting-edge a second time.
*For more about the Maslow-style Hierarchy of Technology, get your hooves on a copy of the Next Nature book.