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Up On The Roof: Wisconsin Business Uses Goats As Lawnmowers

Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik uses goats to maintain their sod roof. The Door County, WI, restaurant has become famous worldwide for the four-legged friends that roam the roof. It all began in 1973 when Al’s friend Wink Larson put a goat named Oscar on the roof as a birthday prank. Since then, the restaurant has been known for its caprine residents.

Today, the restaurant has a popular video series called “Your Weekly Dose of Goat.” It is not only entertaining but is used as an informative tool to showcase the goats — and their sustainable grass and weed-mowing talents — to a larger audience. 

The video series, filmed at Al Johnson’s rural goat barn north of Sister Bay, has been designed as a fun, informative vehicle aimed at the restaurant’s legions of passionate fans. Viewers can learn more about the goat’s daily routine and even see special guests come by and visit their home barn. There’s also a daily livestream of the goats’ activities thanks to two web cameras mounted on top of the restaurant.

Photo Courtesy Al Johnson’s 

These goats, which essentially serve as the roof maintenance crew, don’t spend the night on top of the restaurant. Each day, caretakers bring the goats on site, where they climb a slanted stairway to the rooftop pasture.

This sustainable way of maintaining the roof’s sod means no pesticides or chemicals are used, and the grass stays mowed at all times. Since the goats require no fossil fuels to “power” them, they act as clean lawnmowers and weed eaters.

The restaurant’s sod roof is also literally green. The sod retains water, meaning less run-off when it rains. The sod also purifies the water as it runs off, which in turn lowers the number of polluting particulates that end up in storm drains and local waterways. 

Throughout the year, sod roofs are more insulating, keeping buildings warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. This natural grass covering, mowed by goats daily, means less money on heating and cooling bills and almost zero maintenance.

Video Courtesy Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant & Butik

“Our visitors fall in love with the goats and are always so concerned about them, their health, and their safety,” Lars Johnson said. “They want to know how they get onto the roof each day, where the goats go each evening when we take them off the roof and load them onto a pickup truck, and whether they can fall off the roof.”

Al Johnson’s children Lars, Rolf, and Annika run the restaurant today. To them, the goats are a vital part of the restaurant’s lore and are certain to stay happily munching above diners for years to come.

Photo Courtesy Al Johnson’s 

“… Our goat herd, which always numbers at least 15 or 20 goats, is well-cared-for and healthy, and still avidly listening to the Wisconsin Public Radio broadcasts that play in the barn every day,” Lars said in an article on the restaurant’s website. “Having goats on our roof and in our barn gives us a fun opportunity to inject something lighthearted into a very worried, serious world.”  

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