Flock of goats snarfs down plants to help control weeds in rural Tonganoxie
photo by: Shawn Linenberger
Bells clanging met the faint sound of rain trying to fall through a grove of trees Friday night near Fred and Lisa Scheller’s rural Tonganoxie home.
The bells belonged to some of the 75 Barnyard Weed Warriors from Mary Powell’s fleet of hungry and adventurous goats.
The rain, well, it didn’t seem to bother the hungry animals.
Powell, who is from Hunter in north central Kansas, has taken her goats across the state to help tame down weeds and other vegetation.
For the Schellers, the goats helped get rid of weeds in that grove, though the goats also grazed on some leaves and other greenery. That’s part of the gig, though, for Powell’s animals.
“The big thing is, I get to bring joy to people,” Powell said.
Last year, Powell’s goats did a similar job for Cheryl Hanback and Richard Brown, fellow rural Tonganoxie residents looking for a way to get rid of some weeds.
Hanback said they first met Powell when she brought the goats to Pendleton’s Country Market near Lawrence as part of the Kaw Valley Farm Tour.
Hanback explained. “We don’t have any animals on our pasture and we have 10 acres or so. It’s just so overgrown, and she puts those guys on there and it’s all eaten down but not down to where it’s just bare dirt.”
On to the goats
A lifelong agriculturalist, particularly with animal science, Powell decided to get into the goat business in 2012.
In 2015, she was the first person in Kansas to contract the West Nile Virus, the effects of which still sideline her on occasion today.
But in 2016, Powell turned 50, and with her birthday came some reflection. She said she wanted to live like she was 25. And so, Powell decided to make the Barnyard Weed Warriors her occupation. She takes the animals to clients, whether they are people wanting to get rid of some brush or a group doing a fundraising event. And because she in many ways chooses her own hours to work, she can take a rest when those lingering effects from the virus give her trouble.
Powell brought the animals to this neck of Kansas another time for the Great Goatsby Gala, a fundraiser for the Eudora Township Library. The library also had a goat cheese event, which helped give Lisa Scheller the idea to do a wine and goat cheese party Friday in conjunction with the goats’ feeding frenzy. Scheller got the cheese locally from Kathy Monahan and then guests brought wine to complement the spread. About 20 people visited for the impromptu party, with many chatting with Powell about the process or taking photos of all of the goats.
Those goats aren’t Powell’s only furry companions on her adventures.
She has her border collies — Miss Allie, 12, sisters Jinx and Joy, both 7, and Fly, Joy’s daughter who just turned 5 months old Friday.
“It would be a dog and pony and goat show if I had room for the horses,” she joked.
The dogs help to keep the goats in line and mind Powell pretty well.
That’s not always the case for the goats.
“Hey! Quit fighting,” Powell exclaimed at one point.
She got the goats back in line quickly and all was well, though that’s not always the case.
“I’ve fired a couple goats,” she said. Still, most of them are good about cleaning out weeds and other vegetation at every stop.
“They don’t even know they’re working.”
Powell said she has about 30 appointments a year for her goat services in an industry that continues to grow in popularity.
Her animals even have caught the eye of an area county interested in using the goats to tackle some noxious weed issues.
That’s what was great for Brown and Hanback.
The goats were able to chow down on poison ivy, which makes walking on their property a better experience.
Powell has found goats to be utilized in various ways across the country.
For instance, goats are being used to clean up open pastures of English ivy at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
There also are fire goats, which eat vegetation ahead of fires, and some that are used by the Bureau of Land Management.
What’s it’s name?
Powell said she doesn’t have names for all of her goats. Some just go by their tag numbers, while others were 4-H projects. So there’s a Petunia and Rosy and Penguin.
She also has Nibbles, Kibbles and Pib. The name Pib, by the way, is short for Pain in the Backside.
Another goat goes by Uni, short for Unicorn.
One of its horns wraps around an ear, making it appear the goat has just one horn.
She has some other names for certain goats, but she conceded that those weren’t printable.
The goat cheese parties are becoming a popular trend, Powell said. She even has an event Labor Day Weekend at Lake Perry to which she will be taking the animals.
The goats are able to consume about a half-acre of vegetation in a day, according to Powell.
They don’t actually eat tin cans, as some myths might indicate, but they do eat a great many plants. They even will take the bark off cedar and elm trees, Powell said.
Anyone interested in learning more about Powell’s business or scheduling her can visit her website, barnyardweedwarriors.com.
Powell hopes to continue to educate others about the animals and what they can do as an alternative in weed control.
“I’m bringing rural America to urban America,” she said.