Goats take over brush-hogging duties, earning admirers, at Wichita park

WICHITA, Ks. – A herd of hungry goats has taken over brush-hogging duties at an overgrown city park in Wichita.

Sim Park sits inside a sandy area, making it difficult for crews to move in mowing equipment. The city solved the issue by placing a call to Restoration Grazing LLC and its foraging friends to complete the task of removing brush and poison ivy from the park. 

Restoration Grazing owner Rex Rutledge told The Heartlander his goats benefit from the high protein count in poison ivy and do not become ill from ingestion. His furry foragers arrived June 20, and have wrapped up their free buffet in an extraordinary nine days total. 

“They’ve gone through the brush exceptionally fast,” Rutledge said. “There is a bunch of bush honeysuckle in here and it’s pretty invasive in this part of the country. They have really been enjoying that plant. We’ve been clearing an acre in about a day and a half.”

Lactating nanny goats are known to eat 6% of their body weight per day, and a 100-pound goat may eat from four to six pounds of dry leaves per day.

Rutledge says there are many benefits of using goats to clear brush, especially at public parks – including the fact that goats don’t harm small animals or trees as a mulcher might.

“A mulcher does not care if you are a cute little rabbit, turtle, insect or a small tree. It’s going to chew you up and spit you out anyway. The goats are good at protecting what is living there and don’t destroy the habitat. Incrementally, they will cut back on the brush. It just looks a lot better and it’s fun.”

Additionally, Rutledge says the use of goats cuts fossil fuel use and emissions in the environment.

The city has agreed to pay Restoration Grazing $5,000 for its goats to clear five acres of land, while saving money from having to hire human workers. Rutledge has provided a whopping 130 goats, complete with 60 mature nannies and 70 kids.

They’ve all become fan favorites.

“There haven’t been goats here in the city for quite some time. People have been loving it: 200 people are coming out a day to see the goats, and the support online has been outrageously good. It’s incredible that the community has really taken to the goats how they have. It’s been great.”

The goats don’t roam the park freely, placed behind a portable electric fence with netting. Rutledge says this works as a mental barrier and his goats know not to touch it. The fence also doubles as a predator barrier, keeping out foxes and coyotes. 

Rutledge says if more people used grazing mammals, the environment would be much better off.

“Everyone these days is in this Amazon Prime mindset where they want something and they want it now. The goats are a natural prescription for this. It takes time. Over the course of five to seven years you could revert this brush back into grass if you just used goats on a consistent basis. It would take no chemicals or sharp blades.

“I’ve had a great time out here. I’ve enjoyed talking to people, and I try to educate folks on what the goats are doing, why they are doing it or what benefits they have. This part of the world evolved with large ruminants grazing, whether it was cattle, antelope or other large animals. We’ve taken a lot of these animals off the land. Now the result is rampant brush and vegetation growing everywhere.”

The city used Restoration Grazing LLC as a pilot program, and will now decide whether to use its services again to clear an additional 35 acres. 

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