O'Hare Goats to Keep Weeds in Check Thanks to Lincoln Park Restaurateurs

By Heather Cherone and Emily Morris  on May 13, 2013 6:21am

 Starting next month, 25 goats owned by a Lincoln Park restaurant will keep the weeds at O'Hare in check.
Starting next month, 25 goats owned by a Lincoln Park restaurant will keep the weeds at O'Hare in check.
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flickr/AU UN IST PHOTO/TOBIN JONES

CHICAGO — The hills at O'Hare Airport will soon be alive — with the sound of goats.

Starting next month, 25 goats that chef Al Sternweiler, the chef at the Butcher & the Burger restaurant, and his business partner Joseph Arnold, bought for their farm in the far northern suburbs will move to the 7,000 acres surrounding one of the busiest airports in the country where they will be turned loose on an all-you-can-eat buffet of buckthorn, garlic mustard, thistles, poison ivy and ragweed.

"We're not doing it to make any money," Sternweiler said. "We want to support the city, and the community."

Sternweiler's company will be paid $19,500, the lowest of the 11 bids the city's Department of Aviation received in October for the two-year contract.

While the herd of goats may not be cash cows, Sternweiler said he's hoping the publicity about their part-time job at O'Hare will draw diners to his Lincoln Park restaurant, which offers do-it-yourself burgers with locally sourced and organic ingredients.

"We got the goats on kind of a whim," Sternweiler said. "My business partner and I were starting a farm in Barrington Hills, with pigs and chickens for the restaurant. We came across these goats, and thought we might as well add them to the farm."

The goats produce milk and cheese for the restaurant, Sternweiler said.

The goats, accompanied by their caretaker, will be expected to clear about 250 acres a day at the airport, focusing on steep areas along creeks and streams. When the goats are off duty, they'll be kept in a tent and protected from the runways.

A pilot program that could be expanded to other city property if successful, using goats to maintain the airport's property is part of the city's effort to reduce the vegetation on the land that could attract unwanted birds and other wildlife, airport spokeswoman Karen Pride said.

In addition, the proposal to use goats at the airport is designed to reduce the use of herbicides and other toxic chemicals, and protect the environment, according to the program proposal.

But squeamish diners don't have worry about O'Hare's newest workers ending up on the menu at the Butcher & the Burger — Sternweiler said he has no plans to add goat burgers to the menu.

"They wouldn't sell, that's for sure," Sternweiler said.

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