The idea at first sounded like a joke — replace goats with people to do manual labor.

But no one at the New York State Bridge Authority is laughing after an experimental project where goats were used for vegetation control in hard to reach areas under the Walkway Over The Hudson saved thousands of dollars.

“The goats did an outstanding job clearing poison ivy, sumac and pretty much everything else they could reach,” said Bridge Authority Executive Director Joseph Ruggiero in a post to the agency’s Facebook page. “We’re very pleased with the results and are planning new projects for next year.

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After 10 weeks of hard work and “very full stomachs,” the project was declared a success. 

A dozen goats from Green Goats, a Rhinebeck company owned by Ann and Larry Cihanek, started in July by making a home for themselves in fenced areas under the bridge. “As they cleared one section under the bridge, they were moved to new areas to continue eating their way through Poughkeepsie,” according to the Authority.

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“Not only did we save money by contracting the goats, they made the job of clearing stalks and fixing our fences a lot easier for our summer crews,” said Authority Chairman Richard A. Gerentine. “What started as a suggestion from a staff member, maybe a little in jest, turned into a well-run project for the Authority.”

The Authority spent $10,440 to contract the goats, about half what it cost for similar work in past years with summer maintenance crews. The way goats eat vegetation will also help with long-lasting weed control.

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The goats not only cleaned the area below the walkway, but also entertained locals who would regularly stop by to see them at work. Residents even helped nab one that escaped through a gap in the fence one time.

The use of the animals this summer was also particularly significant for Green Goats after a tragic barn fire struck in February, leaving 100 goats dead. Thanks to the community and public donations, Green Goats once again has a full herd and recently started building a new barn to house the goats over the winter.