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Wanted: A Few Good Goats for Airport Grazing

By Heather Cherone | October 31, 2012 1:47pm
 Goats owned by Lawrence Cihanek eat weeds at the Wilderstein Historic Site in upstate New York.
Goats owned by Lawrence Cihanek eat weeds at the Wilderstein Historic Site in upstate New York.
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Lawrence Cihanek

O’HARE — City officials are looking for a few good goats.

To find an eco-friendly way to keep the weeds and other vegetation under control around the perimeter of O’Hare Airport, city officials are reviewing bids from 11 companies around the country eager to put their goats to work.

The lowest bid — for $19,500 — came from Al Sternweiler, the chef at Lincoln Park restaurant the Butcher & the Burger. He keeps about two dozen goats and other animals at a farm northwest of the city to produce food for the restaurant.

“They graze all the time,” Sternweiler said. “I’ve never done anything like this, but I figure they could help out O’Hare.”

Animal lovers don’t have to fear for the future of the goats if Sternweiler doesn’t win the contract, which is expected to be awarded in the next couple weeks.

“Goat burgers are kind of a hard sell,” Sternweiler said, adding the restaurant mostly uses the animals — which have a reputation for being ornery but always hungry — to make fresh goat milk and cheese.

Sternweiler’s bid is more than $10,000 less than the next lowest proposal for the contract, which seeks between 25 and 80 goats to each clear about 250 square feet of buckthorn, garlic mustard, thistles, poison ivy and ragweed a day for the next year.

“We’re not looking at it as a revenue generator,” Sternweiler said, adding that the restaurant, which has been open for about a year at Armitage and Sheffield avenues, has been very successful. “We make money elsewhere. It’s a marketing tool.”

The highest bid was for $180,000 from Nancy Schwag and Melinda Metlger. Other bidders include companies from South Carolina and Missouri.

Using goats to keep weeds in check may be new to Chicago, but the animals have been used all over the country, including at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

Despite not being the lowest bidder, Lawrence Cihanek, who runs a goat-grazing business in upstate New York, is confident that he will ultimately get the contract, which specifies that the winner must have experience.

Cihanek’s goats regularly graze near the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn and Staten Island.

“They're used to the noise and the people,” Cihanek said. “It doesn’t bother them.”

Cihanek bid $96,300 for the contract.

The biggest challenge is to keep the goats from roaming, Cihanek said.

“Goats will stay exactly where you want them to,” Chianek said. “Provided there is enough food. If not, they are industrious characters and they will wander.”

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 city records.

Douglas Giebel, who owns a landscaping business in suburban Burr Ridge, said he was disappointed to be outbid on the contract. He offered to do the job for $86,020.

Giebel, who grew up on a cattle ranch in Argentina, said he loves the animals, and has about 50 to 60 as pets on a suburban ranch.

“I wanted to do it for the hell of it,” Giebel said. “It’s a great idea.”