Goats as weed-whackers: How Congressional Cemetery mows its lawn

The Congressional Cemetery in the nation's capital is battling invasive vines and weeds,and it's bringing in some living lawnmowers to help them out.

A herd of 30 dairy goats, hailing from a Maryland farm of eco-friendly landscapers, started chomping on the cemetery's overgrown vegetation Thursday. The goats' aim is to reduce harmful herbicide use and still clear land overtaken by vines, poison ivy, and fallen debris.

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Goats clear vegetation at Congressional Cemetery
Bill Putnam / CBS News

The use of farm animals is a green solution that "prevents the invasive species from killing large mature trees" in the property's wooded area, according to a Congressional Cemetery fact sheet, and it enables the staff to avoid the use of herbicides to control the weeds.

The grazing also helps the local honey bee population, which relies on native plants uninhibited by foreign vines. If vines grow too thickly, they're liable to "strangle" the trees and cause branches to fall, potentially damaging valuable historic headstones.

There are 65,000 people who are buried or memorialized at the 200-year-old cemetery, from all walks of life. FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover is probably the most famous person buried in the cemetery. U.S. Marine band director John Philip Sousa; David Herold, an associate of John Wilkes Booth; and Walt Whitman's companion, Peter Doyle, are also among those interred here.

"This project combines natural and cultural resources, providing the perfect solution for us since we are located so close to the Anacostia River edge," Paul K. Williams, President of HIstoric Congressional Cemetery, said in a statement. "We were amazed two years ago at the sensation these little guys caused, but when we saw the excellent job they had done, it made complete sense to bring them back again."

The rescued dairy goats will graze 24 hours a day over the next two weeks and cover an acre and a half of property. They cost approximately $5,000, with funds provided by an anonymous sponsor.

The Historic Congressional Cemetery in the Capitol Hill neighborhood is a national historic landmark. This is the second time the cemetery has recruited dairy goats as groundskeepers.