‘Seasoned pros’ — Why Lenexa is using 42 goats to clean up invasive plants in Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park

Lenexa goats

More than three dozen goats are hard at work chewing up the invasive plants along the streamway in Sar-Ko-Par-Trails Park in Lenexa.

The city of Lenexa has hired a herd of local goats to eat up invasive plants along the streamway through Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park.

Lenexa invited 42 goats with Goats on the Go KCMO to come in and, like goats are wont to do, chew up all of the invasive plants that cause erosion issues along roughly 2 1/2 acres in the park.

It’s the city’s first targeted grazing project, which means the goats provide an alternative or complementary method to traditional forms of management, such as cutting, mowing, burning or spraying with herbicide.

Margaret Chamas with Goats on the Go KC said her goats should wrap up their work in about two or three weeks.

Margaret Chamas, owner of Goats on the Go KCMO, said her goats started grazing at Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park on Friday and should finish up in about two or three weeks.

“I look at it as a great goat project because there’s some rocky spots, there’s some really steep spots, there’s some areas subject to erosion,” Chamas said. “It’s just not conducive to running a lawnmower or sending a guy with a Weed Eater or a chainsaw. It’s along a stream bank; you don’t want to spray a bunch of herbicides or chemicals because that will get into that waterway and poison downstream.”

About the slopes

Lenexa goats
This is a completed section after the goats chomped their way through the brush and weeds.

Lenexa’s stormwater management team maintains about 23 miles of streamways and about 315 acres of adjacent vegetated area, according to the city. It takes about 300 to 400 man hours to clear the slopes.

Invasive plants such as honeysuckle, poison ivy, johnson grass, ragweed, wild grape and other shrubs grow on those slopes, choking out good vegetation that officials say hold streambanks together and filter water.

“Having the goats do this work for us, they come in, they clear it all out, if they weren’t here doing it, we’d have to go in, manually cut it all out, either use a mower, chainsaws, weedeaters, those kinds of things, and then haul it all out, chip it up, haul it away, do something with it,” said Ted Semadeni, stormwater superintendent. “This way, the goats are doing something with it. They’re eating it.”

Here’s a new section of streamway the goats entered on a rainy Tuesday morning.

The project comes at a cost savings for Lenexa, city officials say, which would end up paying more than $2,500 to clear invasive plants using more traditional mowing and weed-eating for a project this size.

Hiring goats, on the other hand, will cost about half to two-thirds that, city staff estimate.

Plus, steep slopes could be unsafe for people clearing the area, but goats are well equipped to manage uneven terrain.

“The goats are more than happy to deal with that terrain and those obstacles, and they’ll get into a lot of the cracks and nooks and crannies that the average person with a Weed Eater won’t,” Chamas added. “They’re very sturdy; for whatever reason, their stomachs are iron. It doesn’t bother them. They can handle a lot more stuff than we can.”

Semadeni said the goat project is primarily an educational opportunity through the city’s Rain to Recreation program. But it’s also designed to help with flood control and water quality improvement.

“It brings attention to the invasive vegetation problem that we have on all of our streamways, and it was really just kind of a neat way to get attention to stormwater [issues],” he added.

About the goats

Lenexa goats
“They’re pretty much seasoned pros at this point, at their age,” said Margaret Chamas.

Chamas and her goats are in their fourth grazing season.

The goats on this Lenexa project in particular are all neutered males, about 15 to 16 months old. Most of whom were born on Chamas’ farm in Smithville, Mo.

“Their moms taught them to eat what to eat, what not to eat, and they’ve been doing projects like this since they were a couple months old,” Chamas said. “So they’re pretty much seasoned pros at this point, at their age.”

And pros they are. On Tuesday, when Chamas opened the pen to move the goats to a new grazing site, she barely hollered before they came stampeding to the fresh greens.

Lenexa goats
Onlookers should refrain from touching the goats, but they can visit them at the park as well as at Spinach Festival on Sept. 11.

Chamas said the goats’ work helps people re-establish native plants and restore prairie species, while minimizing the impact to the soil or the use of herbicides and other chemicals.

Better species selection along streamways can also help prevent erosion.

“A lot of the weeds we’re dealing with, you cut it off once and that plant’s done for, so if the goats go through and eat that, that plant isn’t going to regrow,” Chamas said. “Meanwhile, these prairie species are much more adapted to grazing, and so they just sprout right back.

“And it’s just a lot more enjoyable for everybody involved. The goats are a lot more pleasant to look at than sweaty people.”

Chamas and the city ask that park visitors and onlookers respect fencing that guards the goats’ work are and refrain from touching the goats.

However, the goats will make an appearance at the city’s Spinach Festival on Sept. 11.