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City looking for a few good goats — for O’Hare job

File Photo.. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

File Photo.. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 16, 2012 6:08AM

Help wanted: One shepherd with at least 25 sheep. Goatherds also welcome to apply. Must be able to tolerate the roar of jet planes overhead.

It’s certainly not the typical contract the city puts out for bid for O’Hare International Airport.

But the city’s Aviation Department is indeed looking to hire a herder with animals to graze areas at the airport that have become overgrown with grass, weeds and other vegetation, in particular a vacant property on the perimeter of O’Hare just east of Mannheim Road and north of Interstate 190.

Interested herders must have at least 25 animals.

“Sheep, goats — it could be any grazing animal. We don’t discriminate,” said Amy Malick, an Aviation Department official.

But don’t expect to look out your plane window and see some bearded character in flowing robes using a staff to guide the animals. Goat- and sheepherding is a bit more high-tech these days.

Interested herders must provide a mobile electronic fence to keep the animals from wandering anywhere near the runways.

“We’ll move that around within the permanent fence that is located on the airport grounds, a fence within the fence,” Malick said.

The target area just east of Mannheim Road has become a “bird attraction,” Malick said. “And wildlife is not desirable at an airport.”

But apparently goats and sheep now are.

The 100-acre area is costly to maintain because it’s hard to get to and requires special heavy machinery, which is expensive and not environmentally friendly because of the fuel it burns, Malick said.

So how do you find a goatherd these days?

Apparently Google isn’t much help. Malick said the online market for goat herders and goats isn’t too large. But the department has seen an increase in bids as word spreads. Five potential vendors already have been identified, and the department hopes the three-week pilot program can get started before the weather gets too cold.

Interested candidates for the goat-herding gig must apply by Sept. 24.

Atlanta began a weeklong program at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport this week. But the goals aren’t quite the same. In Atlanta, the goats and sheep are being used to eat specific invasive plants to keep them from spreading. The airport partnered with Trees Atlanta, a nonprofit, to rent out 100 goats and sheep for a week. The program was funded by an anonymous donor.

“They’ll be testing how quickly the sheep and goats are able to eat invasive plants that are there, and then they’ll be testing how cost-effective it is for them and just how effective of a method it is vs. using mowers or pesticides,” said Bethany Clark, spokeswoman for Trees Atlanta.

The sheep at Atlanta’s airport stay on site for the duration of the pilot program and are being fenced in by an portable electric fence. The fence keeps them enclosed and stops them from eating plants that don’t need to be removed.

Clark said Trees America has used animals at other green spaces and hosted a “Breakfast with the Sheep” for families to meet the sheep, eat doughnuts and learn about their initiatives.

Could that happen in Chicago?

“It’s possible, yeah,” Malick said. “We haven’t even explored that yet.”

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