Sheep tend to Cortland’s flock of solar panels

06/28/2022

SUNY Cortland’s stand-alone solar array has 2,443 panels on 2.4 acres, producing 1,118 kilowatts of electricity. It’s all part of SUNY Cortland’s efforts for a better environment. But without the help of 12 sheep – give or take – this zero-carbon initiative might get a little too green.

With all the hard to reach places a solar panel creates, regular lawn care methods become more daunting. The sheep, on the other hand, handle it with ease. It’s a practical choice, according to Daniel Dryja, director of operations and facilities services. But that doesn’t make it any less fun to have these four-legged solar stars on campus.

“Having the sheep on site to control vegetative growth in the solar panels has been very successful,” Dryja said. They do a good job of controlling growth and saving unnecessary wear and tear on our equipment, as well as countless hours of labor mowing and trimming around panels. Additionally, the sheep tend to be very popular with our community members, as you can often find individuals stopping by and taking pictures.

Besides making Cortland’s solar power more cost effective, sheep have another advantage over lawnmowers: without the need for gasoline, less pollution goes into the air. The sheep, all rams, are of a breed called Mouflon, selected for this work because they graze on a wide variety of plants and like the shade. On loan from Highland Solar Grazers in Tompkins County, they have been tending since 2021 among the university’s solar panels near Highway 281.

More importantly, they go where lawn mowers can’t. Maintaining the landscape around the solar panels is hard and thankless work if you are a person. For the sheep, however, it’s just one party after another.

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Several rams jump around their enclosure shaded by solar panels on campus near New York State Route 281.

The idea of ​​using the sheep started with Zach Newswanger, vice president of facilities management. Once the disruptions caused by COVID-19 began to end, the idea was implemented by Dryja, who also coordinates with the shepherds tending the herd. The number of campus sheep varies, but currently there are about a dozen.

So far, it has been a natural choice. This creative use of hungry cattle has helped solidify SUNY Cortland’s role as an environmental leader among college campuses. Consider:

  • Recognition over the past two years by The Princeton Review as one of the most sustainable campuses in the country. Cortland scored 96 of a possible 99 points on The Princeton ReviewThe Green Rating Scale, which measures whether students have a healthy and sustainable quality of life on campus. It assesses how well a school prepares students for employment in a clean energy economy and how environmentally friendly the school’s policies are.
  • Sierra The magazine has ranked SUNY Cortland among the nation’s top 100 colleges and universities for sustainability for six consecutive years and is SUNY’s top comprehensive college on their 2021 “Cool Schools” list.
  • SUNY Cortland has received back-to-back gold ratings in the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Monitoring, Evaluation, and Sustainability Rating System (STARS). The gold rating places Cortland in the top 3% of all higher education institutions nationwide.
  • In 2013, SUNY Cortland became the first in the SUNY system of 64 campuses to operate all of its facilities using 100% renewable electricity, through a combination of solar power and purchased renewable energy.

Anyone who wants to see the sheep in action can find them hard at work from mid-April to December. For additional information about SUNY Cortland’s environmental programs and resources, visit the Office of Sustainability website.


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