Ypsi-based lawn service uses sheep to mow local parks and yards

Project Mow uses a flock of 40 sheep to mow overgrown properties that aren't suitable for a riding mower or string trimmer.
On a warm early August morning, Yuko Frazier is tending a sick lamb named Sonny at her Superior Township farmhouse while Sonny recovers from a recent getaway from his day job: mowing lawns. 

From the farmhouse, Frazier walks down a dirt path lined with black-eyed Susans to a paddock where 40 sheep are munching on grass inside a portable, solar-powered electric fence. This flock powers Frazier's business, Project Mow, an Ypsi-based service that "mows" overgrown properties that aren't suitable for a riding mower or string trimmer. The sheep can trim in woody areas and eat poison ivy with no problem. 
Yuko Frazier with some of her sheep.
"You can go as deep as you want with this," Frazier says. "You can start with, 'Oh, how cute,' and, 'Great, no fossil fuels,' all the way to sheep regenerating the soil."

"They get their grass mowed, and I get my sheep fed"

Frazier works full-time as a project manager for a landscaping company, but runs Project Mow on the side. The project started in 2016 when she adopted a flock of 16 Katahdin sheep, a breed typically raised for their meat rather than their wool, that she found via an ad on Craigslist. Her husband, Chuck Frazier, is an over-the-road trucker. He had a commercial driver's license, and she had previous experience with livestock – skills which she says came together perfectly for a mobile livestock business.

At first, Yuko Frazier only owned one and a half acres of land on Prospect Road and couldn't keep sheep there. But she knew an employee at Dawn Farm, a residential addiction recovery nonprofit with a 64-acre farm in Ypsilanti Township. Dawn Farm staff welcomed her to graze her sheep on their property.

"I really wanted to have livestock, and I felt like if I didn't do it then and there, I would never do it," she says. 
Yuko Frazier.
The arrangement with Dawn Farm was great, but the summer of 2016 was dry, and grass was scarce. Yuko Frazier says it was "a bit much" to keep moving the sheep daily and still keep up with her day job. A friend suggested she loan out the sheep to mow lawns, but Yuko Frazier needed a trailer to mobilize them.

"That was what gave me the idea to do Project Mow," she says. 

The Fraziers and their sheep moved to their current six acres in Superior Township in early 2020. Next door is about 60 acres owned by a Lansing-based real estate development company. In a bartering agreement, Yuko Frazier grazes her sheep on the company's land. 

"It's a win-win situation," she says. "They get their grass mowed, and I get my sheep fed."
Some of Project Mow's sheep.
City parks and birthday parties

While the city of Ypsilanti is a repeat Project Mow customer, most of Yuko Frazier's customers are just homeowners with big backyards. And they often invite friends to watch the flock do its job.

"Clients sometimes [add] on by hosting parties, like birthday parties or wine and cheese parties," Yuko Frazier says. "It's entertainment, really."

She asks that clients be within about a 10-mile radius of her farm, and have at least one acre to mow.
Yuko Frazier with some of her sheep.
"It's not for the sheep. It's because of mine and Chuck's work schedule," Yuko Frazier says. "We want to check on them daily. If something happens and they get out, I need to be able to run over there and corral them back in."

For example, Sonny, an escape artist, was recently picked up by public safety three miles away from the Fraziers' farm. Luckily, co-workers at Yuko Frazier's day job are supportive when she's called away on Project Mow business.

"They love it. I always say, 'If I can manage 40 sheep, I can manage your project,'" she says with a laugh. 

The city of Ypsilanti has used Project Mow to mow hard-to-reach spots in Riverside Park and Frog Island Park for several years now. 
Some of Project Mow's sheep.
"There are steep areas in the park where it's a whole lot safer for sheep to get up there than us to get up there with a weed whacker," says Bonnie Wessler, project manager for the Ypsilanti Department of Public Services. "It's also great to use a more sustainable lawn mowing service."

Wessler says the city only uses the sheep for select areas, because "there are some biological byproducts we understand people don't want to find in the middle of a soccer game." But in those select areas, she says, Project Mow is "perfect."

"It saves carbon emissions, saves gas, and it's far better for the safety of workers," Wessler says. 

Ypsilanti-area residents can watch Project Mow in action at Frog Island Park the weekend of Sept. 10-11. Learn more about Project Mow here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.
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