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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Green Listeners: Low-Tech Lawn Mower in Use

Air Date: Week of

In response to a recent query, listeners called in with some of their environmental success stories. Living on Earth host Steve Curwood speaks with New York audience member Gary Finnelli about his original lawn mower: pet sheep, for his two-acre lawn.


CURWOOD: As winter winds down and that blanket of white starts to melt away, people's thoughts will quickly turn from snow blowing to lawn mowing. Well, most people's thoughts, anyway. My next guest doesn't really have to worry about that; he's taken an interesting approach to keeping his yard trim. He's brought in some sheep. Gary Finnelli, welcome to Living on Earth.

FINNELLI: Thank you. Thank you very much.

CURWOOD: Most of us who have to push a lawn mower from time to time thing about ah, it would be wonderful to get a sheep or a goat to do this. But I mean, we think about it but we don't do it. I mean, what possessed you to actually get some sheep and try it?

FINNELLI: We have just under 2 acres, and I spent so much time mowing it, and out of frustration I decided to look into alternatives, and driving around the countryside I saw these places where people had some sheep. I noticed the grass was kept short, and I started asking a lot of questions. I thought I'd try it.

CURWOOD: Gary, are you married?


CURWOOD: So what did your wife say when you --

FINNELLI: She and my other relatives weren't so sure about this. I guess they thought I was a little crazy.

CURWOOD: What benefits have you noticed from having sheep cutting your grass? Aside from saving you time, of course?

FINNELLI: Well, there's quite a few advantages, such as very low maintenance compared to mowing. That's an obvious one.

CURWOOD: Now is it really? I would think that you have to get up every morning and feed -- you don't have to feed them, what am I talking about?

FINNELLI: Well, in the winter time we do. I just purchase some hay and have it delivered. It costs me $1.75 a bale. And I find that the cost of hay and feed for the sheep is much less compared to the cat food and cat litter. So the cost is not that high.

CURWOOD: How does it compare to the care and feeding of a lawn mower?

FINNELLI: Actually, the initial cost was probably comparable to getting a riding mower, which we would have had to do if we had to keep that large of an area down. But over a couple of years I see it as cheaper, with the periodic repairs needed to mowing, the gasoline, eventually a new mower. Where our healthy sheep really get sick, actually they've never gotten sick from me, and reproduce, so there's never need to buy new ones compared to a riding mower.

CURWOOD: Yeah, that's an advantage. I mean definitely your lawn mower won't make another one for you.

FINNELLI: Right. Also, they produce their own fertilizer for the lawn. So it's better for thenvironment than commercially produced fertilizer, which I used to buy before I had the sheep. And you can't beat the bucolic quality of it. I mean we sit on our deck and watch the pleasing scene of a small flock of sheep grazing, who are cutting my grass for me.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) It's sounds wonderful. What's the down side?

FINNELLI: They will eat things that maybe you don't want them to eat, such as your shrubs, small trees. Another thing we learned the hard way was concerning rams. We have 5 ewes and 1 ram. When the ram became sexually mature it lost all interest in being a pet to our children and became extremely interested in our ewes. A ram will fight for dominion of the flock. Our ram had no other rams to direct its natural instincts, so it started to show its aggression towards my wife and our children. Our mistake was having the ram become a friendly pet where it lost all fear of us. We have another ram that I encouraged my kids to chase, since it was very young, so as not to become friendly with it. This ram still protects its ewes but it has a healthy fear of my family, so my kids can go about the yard without being bothered by him.

CURWOOD: Now, we have to go but I have to ask you this question.


CURWOOD: What happens to these lambs? Do they wind up on your kitchen table?

FINNELLI: No. (Laughs) No, they all have names. They all have names and they all become pets. The one ram that was butting our children, it did wind up to be somebody's meal, and my wife even cried with even that ram. But no, we don't keep them for that purpose. We keep them for keeping our grass short.

CURWOOD: And are they on your backs any place literally? I mean, do you knit their wool and wear it?

FINNELLI: We have a large amount of wool. My wife was going to get into spinning it. I've bartered it, some of it. You want some wool?

CURWOOD: (Laughs)

FINNELLI: I can send you 3 bags full, actually.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Thank you so much for taking this time with us.

FINNELLI: You're very welcome.

CURWOOD: Gary Finnelli lives in Wassaic, New York, and has gotten rid of his lawn mower.



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