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One man’s goat is another man’s weedwacker: A business with an eco-friendly land management solution

Rex Rutledge with his grazing goats in Beaumont, Kansas, where they stay when not on the job.
Celia Hack
Rex Rutledge with his grazing goats in Beaumont, Kansas, where they stay when not on the job.

Restoration Grazing was formed last year as a land management and brush control business. It relies on goats for labor.

Rex Rutledge started with 74 goats.

That didn’t last long.

“There’s close to 80 babies at this point,” Rutledge said, stepping through a goat-filled pasture in Beaumont, Kansas. “And there’s 60 does. So yeah – well over a hundred.”

As Rutledge passes through the herd, the babies call out for their moms with a bleating, plaintive cry. But when they realize everything is safe, most return to their primary activity: gorging themselves on the weeds and invasive plants around them.

Hungry goats are just what Rutledge needs for Restoration Grazing, his land management and brush control business based in Beaumount, about 45 minutes east of Wichita. Goats are the muscle behind the operation.

“I take a herd of goats around to customers’ property and let them clear off the brush and excess vegetation,” Rutledge said. “It's kind of like alternative landscaping.”

One of Rutledge’s goats nibbles on a buckthorn tree in Beaumont, Kansas.
Karlee Cooper
One of Rutledge’s goats nibbles on a buckthorn tree in Beaumont, Kansas.

The foraging herbivores are an eco-friendly alternative to chemical sprays and a less energy-intensive undertaking than prescribed burns or hand-weeding.

And they’ll eat the type of Kansas weeds that most people want removed from their land: invasive Chinese bushclover, honeysuckle, poison ivy, multiflora rose and more. Grass is typically a goat’s least favorite item on the menu and is saved for last.

Rutledge opened Restoration Grazing last March 2022. But his experience with livestock isn’t new.

“In college I was a vegetarian, and I didn't want to just be – I call 'em ‘armchair advocates,’ ” Rutledge said. “They just sit at the house and advocate their causes online from the couch.

“I wanted to get out there and make a difference in agriculture and raise beef the responsible way.”

At 25, he moved from his home state of Florida to Montana. There, he worked on a regenerative cattle ranch, which focused on improving the land’s soil and water.

Last year, his wife took a job in Beaumont. Rutledge wanted to continue working with animals, and goats are cheaper than cattle and require less land.

A landowner in town allowed him access to land where the goats could graze. All he needed was an electrified net, to keep the goats in one place, and a trailer to tow them in.

Since then, Rutledge has towed his goats across the state, from people’s backyards to a 23-acre vacant property in rural Kansas.

Cassie Tinsmon lives in Andover. She hired Rutledge and his herd to get rid of poison ivy last year.

“We try not to use chemicals on our yard,” Tinsom said. “It was a way to do that without having to manually pull them all.

“We also homeschool our kids, so to me it was an opportunity to experience something different and learn about the goats.”

Tinsmon said the goats ate all the poison ivy in less than a day. Plus, her kids got to meet a baby goat – so everyone was happy.

The city of Wichita is considering deploying Rutledge’s goats to clear vegetation next to Sim Park golf course in Riverside. Troy Houtman, the city’s parks director, spoke about the potential program at a recent park board meeting.

“We’re looking at a sustainable option as to clearing out some of that bush,” Houtman said. “We’ll give it a try … always willing to try something new.”

The idea was met with interest – and some sarcasm – from board members.

“Might as well have some goats at city hall,” one board member said.

“Some may say we already do,” another responded.

For Rutledge, expanding his business to parks in Wichita is the start of some of his bigger goals. He said he’d like to have between 700 and 1,000 goats so he can work larger properties, perhaps even protecting the tallgrass prairie from invasive species.

“There used to not be any trees in this part of the world,” Rutledge said.

Now, species like the Eastern red cedar have started moving in.

“People try to burn it. … but it always comes back,” Rutledge said. “People are using bulldozers to tear it out of their property, but it just seems that nothing's working.

“And the goats will eat those cedar trees in the wintertime when there's nothing else green.”

For now, he’s moving toward his bigger goals by breeding his goats – kidding, as it’s called. With so many born this March, his goal now is to protect them so they survive until the summer.

That’s when they’ll get to work.

Celia Hack is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Beacon covering local government and as a freelancer for The Shawnee Mission Post and the Kansas Leadership Center’s The Journal. She is originally from Westwood, Kansas, but Wichita is her home now.