Our family farm consist of 320 acres, broken into 30 acres of crop ground, 35 acres of creek and timber and 255 acres of native grass pasture. The crop ground is planted into alfalfa and brome and the pasture land is divided by the creek with 200 acres north of the creek and is used for cow calf pairs from April 15 to October 15, and 55 acres south of the creek and is used year round for meat goats. We have a problem on the south pasture and creek area with a noxious weed called sericea lespedeza. This weed will choke out the native grass and will destroy the pasture for grazing cattle as the cattle will not eat it. Sericea is classified as a noxious weed in Kansas and land owners are required by law to either spray it with herbicides or keep it from going to seed, usually by mowing it. Our neighbor half a mile away has started a vineyard and the approved herbicides for sericea will damage or kill grapes and the land owners applying the chemicals are held liable if the grapes are damaged. Until the start of this grant project chemicals were used to control the sericea at a cost of approximately $550.00 a year.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
Goats are being used for control of brush and weed problems around the US and Goats will eat the sericea and at times prefer it to native grass. My S.A.R.E. project consisted of two test fields to see if the meat goats could control the sericea by either keeping it from seeding out or by killing it by keeping it grazed down, thus eliminating the use of chemicals sprays. . Field A is a 40 acre native grass pasture that is infested with sericea and some locust trees. The water source for this pasture is a small pond located in the middle of the pasture. Sericea made up approximately ten percent of this pasture. Field B started out as an 8 acre field made up of approximately 4 acres of native grass and 4 acres of wooded creek area. Beginning the second year of the project this field was expanded by adding 3 acres of pasture and 2 acres of wooded creek. Sericea made up approximately 30 percent of this pasture and water had to be hauled to the goats because there is no natural water source as the creek is a dry creek.
Field A was grazed by meat goats off and on for one year before the project began but was not used full time because of fencing problems with keeping the goats in. The field was enclosed with a standard five strand barbed wire fence and I planned on adding two barbed wire strands below the lowest existing strand. This was unsuccessful and I added one strand of barbed wire above the lowest existing strand making the fence an eight strand fence which was successful for keeping the goats in. The spacing on the wires starting from the ground were: 4”, 9”, 13 ½”, 19”, 23 ½”, 28”, 36”, 47”. I began the spring 2006 grazing season in April with 62 goats on this pasture. The goats began grazing the sericea as it was sprouting and kept it grazed down all year long. For the entire first year I was unable to find any sericea in this pasture over 1 inch tall and in places I found no evidence of sericea where it once existed. In October 2006 I pulled 12 goats off of the pasture and the remaining 50 goats kept the sericea grazed down. This was an extremely dry summer and the water supply dried up and I used a 250 gallon water tank to haul water to the goats. I began the spring 2007 grazing season in March with 55 goats on the pasture. The goats again kept the sericea grazed down below 1 inch and in places were sericea once was the native grasses were coming back. During this year the 55 goats kept the sericea grazed and left the native grass at approximately one foot tall, and I feel this is a good stocking rate to keep the sericea grazed but not overgrazing the native grass.
Field B got started late because I was having a hard time getting the fence built. I ended up enclosing two sides with an eight strand barbed wire fence and two sides with a 3 strand electric fence. The electric fence wire spacings I used were: 7”, 14” and 23”. I used a 12 volt solar fence charger and introduced the goats to it in a small coral before turning them in the field. It only took about two hours for the goats to get used to the electric fence and once turned into the field I never had one get out during the entire project. The electric fence was more maintenance as I had to clear the fence of grass and weeds twice a year. It was easier to erect the electric fence, compared to barbed wire, through the creek because it was easier to go around trees and obstacles. I was able to turn 30 goats into this field on October 8, 2006, and the sericea was already up to 3 feet tall in most areas. The goats grazed the sericea off and on and after approximately two weeks they had it grazed to stems only. They would not eat the taller thicker stems but kept all foliage off. I began the spring 2007 grazing season by burning off this field which removed the existing sericea stems left from the year before. I then turned 30 goats into it in April. The goats did an excellent job of keeping the sericea grazed down and in most places it was grazed to ground level. In July the native grass was beginning to show over grazing and I expanded the field by moving the electric fence to encompass 13 acres. By adding this acreage native grass was kept at acceptable heights. I am glad that I used electric fence on this field because it was easy to move and allowed me to expand the field with very minimal costs.
I worked on this project with the help of Riley Walters, Director of the Butler County Noxious Weed Department. Riley did a final inspection of the fields in October 2007, and found no sericea that was close to seeding out. Riley said that by using the goats on the sericea I would not be required to spray with herbicides. This is a savings of at least $550.00 a year, cost to spray in 2005, and gives me piece of mind by not having to worry about drift of herbicides to the neighbor’s vineyard. By evidence observed over the course of this project I believe that intensive grazing of sericea by meat goats not only keeps it from seeding out but it will kill it. I have places that was overgrown in sericea when I started that is now devoid of sericea and the native grasses are coming back strong. During the course of this project I also found that the high tannin content in sericea is a natural wormer and my worming was cut in half from previous years, thus increasing savings. I was also informed that the weed department is informing clients about the use of goats to control sericea in our county. I have also received inquires from neighbors who have witnessed what the goats have done to my fields. The largest obstacle that land owners will face in using meat goats to control sericea is the cost and time of installing fencing that will contain the goats. I found the fastest and most flexible is using electric fence if the land owner has time to maintain it.