CEDAR POINT, Kan. — On hot summer days, Mary Powell doesn't shy away from the heat in the comfort of air conditioning.
She's out with her fleet of goats providing a service that has become a growing trend across the country — goat grazing services.
The Emporia Gazette reports that her Barnyard Weed Warriors business launched this year, and it continues to grow.
Last month, she was sitting out on the Magathan farm near Cedar Point when she had to pack up and leave due to heavy rains. But she was back as soon as the floodwaters subsided.
That's been the case all spring and summer so far. If it's not the heat, it's rain. Yet she heads out wherever she's called with a painted trailer loaded with goats and supplies for the job.
"This is kind of a working vacation," Powell said. "I get to be outside. The goats can get into areas that are too rough to mow. So it makes it easier to just send them in."
Her services have kept her and her goats busy.
Along with her three border collies — Jinx, Allie and Joy — they camp out for weeks at a time in various places to clean up brush.
She has enough solar-powered electric fencing to do two acres at a time. That work takes the goats a day or so, and then they move on to the next spot.
"We got into the goat business back in 2012," Powell said. "It costs so much to dry lot them, and you can't make money doing that."
With her partner Bob Gasper, she takes up to 80 goats to the location that needs to be grazed.
The goats like small trees like elm and cedar. They also eat hemlock and other noxious weeds.
"Sometimes the goats will eat a certain plant and other times they won't," Powell said. "It kind of just depends on what they're hungry for at the time.
"We're providing a service. The goats can work areas that are sensitive to chemical runoff near waterways. That can cause a lot of problems. The only natural alternative is the goat. They are the original weed eater."
This comes naturally to Powell, who grew up around livestock and has a degree in animal science from Kansas State University.
"One thing about livestock that non-owners don't get — and they hear a lot — is that we don't care about our animals," Powell said. "I give a darn about my animals, I love them, and when I've worked so hard to save a baby and it dies — that's hard on me.
"I've been in the livestock business for 30 years and each animal I've lost was hard. You learn to deal with it after awhile, but you don't want them to suffer.
"We lost seven goats with kidding this year. It's not just about money, we raised them. It's heartbreaking."
Powell said animal rights groups target businesses like hers, but she will adamantly defend the care she gives her stock.
"We've been given a bad rap from animal rights groups," Powell said. "But what they're spewing out isn't true, we love our livestock. "That's our livelihood. If our animals aren't well, they don't produce. It's in our best interest to keep them healthy. With these goats, they're healthier out on the road. Our pasture at home doesn't have this many weeds, and those weeds have things that the goats need to be healthy. By going out, it benefits the goats, it's better for the environment."
Many of her goats have names like Nibbles and Kibbles, and she treats them like any other pet owner.
"Each goat has a different personality," Powell said. "So do the dogs. But it makes it fun to get to know them."
They even work together, taking turns pushing over a small tree to get the top. The bells attached to some of their collars helps Powell keep track of them.
"If they're going somewhere they're not supposed to be, I'll know pretty quick," Powell said. "That's when the dogs will go out and bring them back. We put the bells on the ones that usually make the most trouble."
Most of their customers are people who don't have time to maintain their pastures.
"A lot of people don't take the time to work their pastures or they've gotten away from them," Powell said. "That's where the goats come in. These animals were created to take care of the brush, and they take care of me because they provide income. I take care of them because I like doing it.
"I love working with animals. That's the same with everyone in the livestock industry. We wouldn't do it if we didn't love our animals."
She cooks her meals with a propane stove and sleeps in the trailer. Popcorn is a staple snack, and the goats will come in when there's a storm.
"I've been in some storms," Powell said. "They don't like the thunder. But we load up with all of the goats and equipment and we're good."
Many might have seen her colorful trailer in the rodeo parade.
"Everybody makes fun of me," Powell said. "I'm a cowboy in a girl kind of way. I'm a goat roper too, but it's what I like to do. I'm learning as I go and having the time of my life. I just really love doing this."