It’s no secret that Governors Island is one of New York City’s must-visit summer places. Just a 10-minute ferry ride from Manhattan or Brooklyn, Governors Island offers art, biking, food, and other hands-on activities — and it just reopened! This summer, visitors to Governors Island are in for a rather unexpected treat: Five new sheep!

Grazing sheep in Hammock Grove, Governors Island

Working with Friends of Tivoli Lake Preserve and Farm in Albany, the Trust for Governors Island has “hired” five sheep to help control invasive plant species in Hammock Grove, an experimental urban forest adorned by fifty red hammocks. Sheep naturally love plants, such as grasses, phragmites, and flowering plants like mugwort and sunflowers, which makes them a natural fit to join the Island’s weed control team.

Why Are There Sheep On Governors Island?

Bringing in animals for weed control is a natural way to get rid of invasive species without using herbicides or weeding and digging up the landscape. In 2019, goats were brought into Riverside Park to eat weeds, and last year, the furry creatures were sent to Stuyvesant Cove Park for some “goatscaping.”

So why sheep instead of goats? According to Mollie McGinnis, Director of Operations Planning & Sustainability at Trust for Governors Island, sheep will be gentler on the grove because they will not ravage the more than 1,200 trees representing over 40 species in Hammock Grove. Goats, however, tend to pull up all kinds of plants and roots, even the ones that should be kept.

Because sheep enjoy grazing on leafy invasive plants, the diversity of the area will stay intact, and the sheep’s waste can be used as fertilizer for the trees. Sheep are also able to get into hard-to-reach places, making them an eco-friendly and efficient option for maintaining the health of the landscape.

Sheep at work on Governors Island

The sheep, named Flour, Sam, Evening, Chad, and Philip Aries, will live in a shelter in Hammock Grove through August. The Governors Island horticultural team will care for them and monitor their progress, moving them to different areas as they finish grazing sections. If you want to pet the sheep, you’re unfortunately out of luck. There is a Department of Health-mandated fence to keep the public from bothering them as they work.

Governors Island is currently open to the public every day through October 31, 2021, 10AM-6:15PM on weekdays and 10AM-7PM on weekends. There are ferries from Manhattan (Battery Maritime Building at 10 South St.) and Brooklyn (Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park and Atlantic Basin in Red Hook). You can find the ferry schedule here.

Next, check out the secrets of Governors Island.