Control of Invasive Species Threatening Native Grasses in a Flint Hills Pasture

Final Report for FNC01-346

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2001: $5,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2002
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $52,150.00
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


Our ranch operation consists of 6,200 acres including 4,500 acres of native grass pastures, 1,200 acres of cool season grasses and 500 acres of riparian areas. Presently we graze a total of 2,700 head of yearling, about 1,000 of these through the winter and early spring on stockpiled cool season grasses and the entire group during the summer, utilizing management intensive rotational grazing and other short season methods of grazing.

The 400 acre pasture targeted in the grant has been owned by the Garners since 1993. the osage orange trees and sericea lespedeza were already invading the pasture at the time of purchase. Chemicals have been applied on some portions of the pasture almost every year since purchase with little to no results in terms of control. Because this pasture is isolated from the remainder of the ranch and almost surrounded by public roads, it is a visible and convenient range management demonstration plot.

Coinciding with the granting of this proposal was the building of a watershed project which had been in the planning stages for several years. It was completed in September, but during this past grazing season 80 acres were not available due to the construction. It is expected that this watershed dam will reduce the volatility of Otter Creek during the heavy rainfall and therefore reduce the erosion and damage to wildlife, plants and fences.

Before receiving this grant we sowed legumes and cool and warm season grasses in 520 acres of bottomland which was previously planted with row crops and small grains. The flooding of this creek bottom is frequent and severe so a good, dense cover is being developed to reduce erosion and to improve grazing. Rotational grazing of cattle on this bottomland is practiced.

On a 1500 A cell of native pasture with 9 paddocks management intensive grazing has been practiced for six years which has improved the diversity and vigor of the forage. Brush control in many native grass pastures continues to be an ongoing practice to improve and sustain the prairie.

1) The overall objective of this project was to reduce and control the invasive species threatening the native grass in a 400 acres pasture and thereby create a model useful to other ranchers. The objective of reducing the osage orange trees was achieved by first sawing the large trees and chemically treating the stumps, and secondly, by grazing new growth of this species with goats.
2) The second objective was to increase the stocking density by dividing the 400 acres into 80 acre paddocks so that management intensive rotational grazing of both yearling stocker cattle and goats was achieved.

Description of planning toward meeting goals:
Logic: Some extremely difficult invasive plants are threatening this pasture. One threat is the number of large, old osage orange trees that preceded present ownership of the pasture and another is the invasive sericea lespedeza. The number and size of trees significantly robs moisture, sunlight, minerals and other nutrients from the native grasses and forbs. Sericea lespedeza, an aggressive perennial, has seeds of great longevity and is prolific, resistant to chemicals and not palatable to cattle past the early growing stage. It has become a serious threat to native grasses in the Flint Hills region as evidenced in this pasture. Chemical treatment of sericea lespedeza kills some of the desirable plants, thus reducing diversity, the hallmark of the Flint Hills. This project used mechanical removal of the large trees and biological control of new osage orange sprouts and sericea lespedeza via goats.

Involvement of other people and agencies:
This grant was used to supplement a grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Department of Interior and considerable effort and expense by owner. The schedule for improving the targeted 400 acres of rangeland is outlined below.

Spring 2001: USF&W funded the sawing and removal and chemical treatment of the stumps of 60 percent of the osage orange trees. A custom operated tree saw with an attached sprayer was used.

Owner improved the peripheral fence to prepare for goats by adding four barb wires to the existing four barb wires with some help from USF&W funds. Cross fencing sufficient to divide the 400 acres into five 80 acre pastures was funded and completed by the owner.

Summer of 2001 and Summer of 2002: Rotationally grazed yearling stocker cattle from May 1 through July 15 and stocker goats from May 15 through October 15 (2001) and December 17 (2002).

Fall of 2001 and Fall of 2002: Cut and sprayed stumps of the remaining 40 percent of osage orange trees funded by SARE. The most severely damaged pond spillway in this pasture was repaired with the help of funding from SARE.

One valuable addition to this project has been the involvement of Kansas State University forage specialists, Dr. Walter Fick and Carol Blocksom, who have made frequent visits during goat and cattle grazing seasons 2001 and 2002, quantifying sericea consumption by counting plants and fecal sampling and soil sampling for sericea seed concentration. We set up control plots in each of the five paddocks which are visible answers to the questions we get about how much the goats are helping to reduce or weaken the stands of sericea lespedeza. The KSU team has also calculated plant diversity and forage production. The impact of the cattle and goats grazing and of the removal of large osage orange trees will best be measured by their data analysis following this two year study. This information will be published in the context of Carol Blocksom’s graduate thesis at Kansas State University.

The economic results are measured by weight gain of cattle grazing alongside goats were stable i.e. stock density and weight gain of yearling cattle was maintained at the same level as previous years while using only 320A in 2002 and also grazing 400 goats. Eighty acres were withheld from use due to the watershed construction. The majority of the goats grazing the 320A in 2002 were nannies owned by two other parties. The yearlings were owned by this ranch.

Sericea lespedeza growth was significantly controlled on 160 acres (2 paddocks) in 2002 by 400 goats grazing from July through September and 160 goats remaining until mid-December. It is obvious that both stocking density and duration need to be increased to significantly control sericea lespedeza on all 400 acres next year.

There is no doubt that the removal of the large osage orange trees will continue to improve the viability and diversity of native grasses in this pasture. This is something nearly impossible to measure in cattle gains in one year’s time but additional grass growth will continue to be evident for years to come. Removal of seedlings of the osage orange by the goats will insure control of that invasive species.

This grant was used to help achieve a larger project of using goats to help control invasive species biologically rather than chemically. The grazing of goats requires considerable costs of labor and materials for fencing and the management of a species new to the owner and most other ranchers in the area. We still have much to learn about how to best manage goats to maximize their impact on sericea lespedeza and other invasive species. However, we realize that no method of control is inexpensive and sericea lespedeza will require our best efforts if we are to preserve the diversity of native grasses in the Flint Hills region. We will encourage others to consider using goats along with their cattle in their grazing programs.

We spent more on the division fences to achieve capability of rotational grazing than we expected and more than we would advise spending at the outset of such a project. We also learned that we will need greater numbers of goats to achieve our goals.

Telling others about our project to improve the pasture by controlling invasive species through mechanical and biological means has been a constant effort because this pasture is so visible on a busy county road. They have seen the large trees felled and the addition of goats, a guard dog and llama has been difficult to ignore. In addition to neighbors and other ranchers asking questions we have hosted guests who have been interested in our project from Texas, Missouri, Arizona, Canada and Tasmania.

The Multi State Sericea Working Group who met in Emporia last fall included this pasture in its tour on September 19, 2001. Extension Specialist Jeff Davidson and NRCS Specialist Dale Kirkham were with the group of about 35 to describe our attempts to biologically control sericea lespedeza.

On September 21, 2002 we hosted a tour of ranchers in the Kansas Graziers Association and the Kansas Society of Range Management. Jeff Davidon, Dale Krikham and Walter Fick were present to help answer questions. The Kansas Graziers sent out press releases, conducted radio interviews with the owner, wrote articles for farm magazines and designed and mailed a flyer concerning the tour. It was attended by 125 people who rode on four long trailers to view the pasture and other projects involving this ranch.


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.