HOPKINS, Mo. — Picture a very old and overgrown cemetery, so dense with thorny raspberry bushes, Black Locust trees and poison ivy, it would be difficult to enter, let alone walk around.
Now, imagine 31 goats being dropped off at 3 p.m. one day and returning fewer than 24 hours later to be able to traverse the grounds perusing headstones.
This is exactly what occurred last week at the Morehouse Cemetery located in a bean field just southwest of Hopkins.
Kathryn Paulson and her sister Karen Switzer, both formerly of Hopkins, seek to clean up and set right the stones of their family cemetery and last week they were able to more easily access it thanks to those goats.
Goats on The Go
The business is called Goats on the Go and headquartered in Ames, Iowa. The closest affiliate to the cemetery is in Smithville, Missouri, where Margaret Chamas operates Storm Dancer Farm.
According to the company website www.goatsonthego.com, there are several reasons clearing overgrown areas, with the help of goats is a better option.
“Herbicides can run off, are dangerous to handle and lead to genetically resistant weeds. Power equipment burns fossil fuel and produces carbon dioxide. Goats go where people can’t, eat what most animals won’t and leave behind nothing but fertilizer.”
Paulson agrees saying that they were very happy to find the company, so they wouldn’t have to use chemicals. She said her sister was the first to suggest seeking out goats for the clean-up project.
“We couldn’t find anybody in the area,” Paulson said. “I went online this summer and found Margaret.”
She said Chamas arrived with a trailer full of 31 goats that exited the trailer excited to eat. Chamas put up a fence electrified through a solar panel unit and the goats stayed put.
The owner of the property to be “goat-managed” supplies water, and zero food. The goats will eat as much as they can reach, including small saplings, even standing on their back two legs to reach up to five feet up larger trees.
“Bless their little hearts they’re just as cute as can be,” Paulson said.
Because the area is very dry, Chamas was to leave the goats for only a week, but bring them back in the spring.
“If nothing more, we would like people to understand that you can do this kind of thing without spraying a chemical and then have to come out and clean it out.”
The “Rent-A-Ruminant” idea is not necessarily a new one. Goats have cleared land, even if their owners didn’t want it emptied since the beginning of time. But it’s more recent that businesses have popped up to provide the targeted grazing services of goats to clear out vegetation for various spaces including municipal lots, parks, airports — Chicago’s O’Hare Airport is just one example.
“This has just been an incredible project,” Kathryn Paulson said. “We started this thing years ago when my parents were still living.”
She said it used to drive her grandfather crazy that the cemetery was so overgrown and deteriorated.
“Originally, my dad’s family came to America in the 1630s,” Paulson said. “Then they moved from New Jersey, in the Connecticut area, to Ohio.”
Pointing to the Morehouse Cemetery, Paulson explained, “These relatives, this would be my great, great granddad came here with two of his uncles that are buried here.”
They came from Ohio and she said she’s visited the Morehouse Cemetery in Delaware County, Ohio, finding her four-times grandfather and grandmother. She said that grandfather was born in 1771 and that grandmother in 1775.
“These are two of their sons, with their wives and children,” Paulson said. “One of the gentlemen here was Judge Stephen Morehouse.”
She further explained that he was the father of A.P. or Albert Pickett Morehouse, of Maryville, who was governor of Missouri from 1887 to 1889.
“He’s buried in Oak Hill,” Paulson said. “But this whole ridge, when they came here my granddad said, there was nothing but prairie chicken, buffalo and Indians. They bought all the land on this ridge. They used to call this Morehouse Ridge, or Morehouse Settlement and my granddad’s place was just north of here.”
She said his old house is now owned by the Blackford family, which are cousins to her family. They’re great, great grandmother and Paulson’s great, great grandfather were first cousins, she explained.
“So it’s all in the family, the Blackfords, the Baldwins,” Paulson said. “My grandmother used to say, ‘You don’t talk about anybody in Hopkins, because if you do, you’re talking about a relative.’ That’s how it was.”
In its current state, the Morehouse Cemetery is in disrepair, headstones have toppled and some are half or completely buried.
“There have been cattle in there which have knocked down stones,” Paulson said. “We’ve gone inside. We’ve identified a Civil War soldier, for sure.”
She said they went to the Nodaway County Historical Society in Maryville and found as many names as they could.
“We just keep digging, trying to find more and more,” Paulson said. “My goal is to find photographs and at least names and all the information I can about everybody who’s buried here.”
She said the family has just now gotten the time to work on the project as everyone was raising kids and living life.
“We just didn’t have the opportunity,” Paulson said.
After getting in and taking photographs of some of the headstones, and with some documentation that had been started in the 1980s, she said they know a lot more than they did when they began, however, it will be a lot of work to find them all.
“We know what’s there,” she said. “We just have to uncover everything once again.”