O’Hare Airport Home to Goats, Llamas, More

Millions of passengers travel through O'Hare every year, but dozens of burros, goats, and llamas call the airport home. Why? Paris Schutz explains.

O'Hare Airport is a transient place where millions of travelers pass through every year.  But there is a small local population of goats, llamas, burros, and alpacas that call O'Hare home for most of the year. Why?

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Ever land at O'Hare only to see a llama running around? It's a regular site on the northwest corner of the airport where the animals graze behind a fence.

The airport has one llama, two wild burros, nine sheep, and 27 goats. Airport officials joke they're the happiest employees they've got, and their job is pretty simple.

“They eat and poop, that's about it,” O’Hare’s Chief Animal Herder Gregg Woodward said.

The animals are all from a rescue shelter. They've been leased out to O'Hare to get rid of unwanted vegetation on some of the airport’s 8,000 acres of land.

O’Hare Airport also houses an apiary, or bee yard, on its far east edge. Watch Chicago Tonight’s 2013 story about the apiary and Sweet Beginnings.

“It's very lush here, so it’s allowed us to clear the area that otherwise is heavily vegetated,’’ says Chicago aviation commissioner Rosemarie Andolino.

As the animals consume their endless meal, airport officials say it is actually making air travel safer.

Cleaning up the vegetation keeps away birds, which pose a safety threat to airplanes taking off, Andolino said.

“We're getting rid of what would otherwise be breeding ground for preys of birds. We have red tail hawks, lots of snowy owls, so our job every day is to maintain the highest levels of safety,” she said.

Andolino says animals do the job better than mowing equipment because the terrain can get a little rough. And, it’s better for the environment.

“There's heavy rocks, and it’s an embankment so getting machines to mow this would be a challenge,” she said.

Earlier this summer, Paris Schutz highlighted the growing trend of vertical farms and showcased several local vertical farms including the one at O’Hare. Watch Chicago Tonight’s story on vertical farming’s rise in Chicago.

She says they've cleaned up quite well. It took them a few months to take care of this river bank. They are currently working on the other side.

Though it's not exactly a tranquil home on the prairie, O'Hare officials say the animals are comfortable with the noise.

“The planes don't bother them at all, they could care less,” Woodward says.

O'Hare's grazing herd is in its second year. The airport plans to welcome even more rescue animals to its herd in the coming weeks. Once the weather turns in November, the animals will be sent back to the Settlers Pond rescue facility in Beecher before returning to work in the spring.

The United States Department of Agriculture is studying O'Hare's herd to determine what exactly the benefits are to having animals graze around the land at O'Hare. Of course, the animals operate in an area that's completely gated off from any of the runways or tarmacs, so you won't see them scurrying in front of a plane anytime soon.

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