I intend to control and possibly eliminate leafy spurge in my pasture by intensively grazing these patches using Angora goats and sheep instead of using chemicals. Introduction of Angora goats will also provide an alternative livestock enterprise to the area to include: breeding stock, a meat source and the production of wool for the home spinning market.
Since leafy spurge grows in pasture situations but is not eaten by cattle, infestations overcome even native grass plants, which reduces the productivity of the pasture. The two neighboring counties have twice as many acres infested with spurge, so the potential for more infestation is real. The traditional method of controlling leafy spurge is spraying with chemicals for up to five consecutive years. This costly practice interferes with livestock grazing and with the sustainable practices I want to use on my farm.
Marvin and Evelyn Lange manage a 240-acre dairy farm in northern Cedar County. They use intensively managed grazing practices on the 60 acres of grassland and rotate alfalfa, corn, and oats on the remaining acres. The grain produced is fed to the dairy herd and the swine finishing operation.
Marvin has been farming with reduced or no chemical inputs for the last twenty years. The intensively managed grazing practices have been used for about ten years.
– Michael Lechner, Cedar Co. Extension agent will help organize and conduct a public demonstration of this practice.
– Terry Gompert from Knox Co. will also be invited to assist since his county also has an infestation of spurge.
– Paul Wiebelhaus, a neighbor, has agreed to let the goats forage on his patches as well.
– Nebraska Mohair Producers will aid in field demonstration.
– Nebraska Sustainable Ag Society will be invited to feature this project in their newsletter and tours.
I have a diversified dairy farm. Adding the goats and sheep would provide another dimension to the grazing herd that would complement the plant diversity in the pasture. Controlling the grazing period will benefit the grass, but stifle the weed growth. This demonstration will help educate the people of the area on the benefits of controlled grazing and the advantages of a diversified grazing herd. My farm is not certified organic, but I do not wish to use chemicals to control pests.
Goats and sheep seem to prefer spurge plants over grass. Angora goats eat up to 90% of spurge leaves, and sheep eat about 50%. I plan to buy ten goats and get five sheep, as well as a portable shelter, and the fence necessary to isolate leafy spurge patches, and protect the goats from predators. I hope the goats and sheep will eventually bond with my dairy herd to provide predator control in the future. This equipment will be moved from time to time to give the goat’s access to all leafy spurge patches on my farm. During the spurge off season, the goats will be cared for and clipped for their wool by a person interested in spinning wool, thus creating a resource for another enterprise.
I plan to monitor the patches and perform stem counts on specific areas and record and compare spurge populations from one growing season to the next. Elimination of the leafy spurge patches may take three years, but simply reducing or even controlling the spread on the weed could be considered a success.
Electrified netting was purchased and set up to keep the animals in the desired area and keep predators from destroying the goats. A used livestock trailer was purchased to provide shelter from the elements and provide a means of transporting the animals from patch to patch.
Lange used Angora goats to eat the spurge before it could produce seed. The goats also consumed the plant, lessening its ability to produce seed.
This was intended to be a multi-year study, but after only one grazing season, there appears to be less spurge in the grazed patches, and no evidence of seed production. The goats selectively consumed the spurge when offered a variety of plants. When compared to a spurge patch that was sprayed by the county weed commission to provide control in the road ditch, the grazed patches showed less evidence of stem growth and no seed production. Lange thinks two more years of grazing needs to be done to get a handle on how effective goats are on leafy spurge control. The Langes learned that goats prefer spurge over grass. They can be grazed with cattle with no apparent loss of grass production for the cattle and help control unwanted plants at the same time. Marvin Lange is considering the use of a multi-species herd for his pasture in the future.
One year is not enough time to establish firm results, but Lange thinks with more years, goats can effectively control leafy spurge in a pasture situation. The use of goats frees an estimated $30 per acre that can now be used to satisfy family needs. The absence of sprays contributes to the diversity in the pasture because the clovers and other broad leafs are not destroyed. Lange also feels better about not having to use or ask others to come in contact with the sprays.
Lange’s notes on sample sites 1994:
Over all there was a decrease in spurge population of about 30 percent. When mowing the paddocks off last year, I got too close to one test site. The spurge was much shorter where it was cut off rather than grazed, but there was more spurge in the area which was cut off.
Lange’s notes on sample sites 1994-1995:
There was an over all decline of 37% of leafy spurge from June 1994 to September 1995. If I wouldn’t count the road ditch, there would be a decline of 48%. To me it shows that using a chemical spray actually encourages growth.
Marvin and Evelyn Lange hosted a field day on June 5, 1995 to display their goats in action. This activity was co-sponsored by the neighboring Extension units and the Nebraska Mohair Producers. The project used expertise and guidance provided by the Nebraska Mohair Producers to learn the habits and needs of the Angora goats. The goats were also used in a neighbor’s pasture to show him their usefulness in controlling spurge (he had used only spray until this season).
There were more than 50 people in attendance at the field day. Promotion for the field day was provided by the educators, Mike Lechner, Terry Gompert, and Rod Patent. The field day was advertised in the local papers and on the farm-based radio stations.