People don’t usually squeal when they see lawn mowers at work. Then again, lawn mowers aren’t usually Babydoll Southdown sheep that look like snuggly four-legged teddy bears.
“People absolutely love them,” says Cory Suter, founder of LambMowers.com, a new Fairfax-based company that uses sheep, not machines, to handle yardwork. “They’re small; they’re cute; they are also really adventuresome eaters.”
He started the company last year to provide an environmentally friendly alternative to gas-powered mowers. Right now, he has a flock of 11 sheep, but almost half are expecting lambs in early May. He transports them to job sites using a custom trailer that can accommodate the 20 he anticipates having when the babies are born.
Suter has had about 10 clients so far, all within Fairfax County, where LambMowers.com operates as a lawn-mowing company. He sets up temporary fencing to contain the sheep to the areas that need work and stays to monitor their progress.
Onsite consultations are free, and each visit—$150 on weekdays, $275 on weekends—lasts two hours to avoid overgrazing, though people with more than 2 acres can opt for a “sheepover,” in which he leaves the sheep and a custom shelter for them.
The animals are so friendly that Suter has brought them to Girl Scouts events and birthday parties, too.
“The sheep have a lot of advantages over a regular, conventional company,” says Margaret Bain, a member of the Church of the Holy Comforter in Vienna, which hired LambMowers.com to help clear some land. “Partly, they’re quiet. Partly, we don’t have to worry about what to do with the plants that have been pulled up because they’re eaten and they’ve gone; they’ve disappeared. We could have hired laborers … but the sheep were more cute than anybody we could have brought.”
When booking LambMowers.com, there are a few things to consider. First, Suter will not bring the sheep if a yard has been treated with pesticides within the past six months. Second, lawns should not be freshly mowed. And it helps if you have a problem with weeds.
“The thing that they’re best at is weed control,” Suter says of the sheep. They enjoy devouring a variety of herbaceous plants, such as creeping Charlie and dandelions, in addition to poison ivy, thorny brambles, and small-tree seedlings. “They even clean out multiflora rose, which is a major invasive plant that we have here in Fairfax County,” Suter says.
Time of day matters, too. The sheep are hungriest in the morning but leave the most soil-enriching “biodegradable fertilizer pellets”—Suter’s euphemism for poop—in the afternoon.
“One of the ways to make soil hold more carbon is to fertilize it by using livestock,” he says. “So that’s one of my big selling points—not only are you getting cute sheep, but you’re also helping climate change on a very small scale.”