Final report for FW19-357
The use of goat herding techniques to reduce the effects of predation while improving rangeland health in the high plains of New Mexico
This study will explore the use of herding techniques on goat predation problems and the associated landscape impacts while exploring improvements needed to make multi-species grazing sustainable. In April 2014, K&C Boer goats moved from Central Texas to the Turner Ranch in Mora County, NM to establish multi-species grazing for land restoration and as an additional revenue source. Methods were modified but net fencing for predator control was not financially feasible. K&C experienced 24% kid loss due to predation between 2016-2017 and was able to reduce kid losses to 14% in 2018, but fewer losses are required to be sustainable.
Additional methods tried by K&C included livestock guardian dogs (LGDs), night penning, pasture selection, and in-shed kidding. While increasing numbers of LGDs reduced predation, when goat herds split into smaller groups it is difficult for LGDs to protect them. The use of herders will reduce the splintering of herds and allow LGDs to do their job and reduce predation. To explore herding techniques, part of K&C’s goats will be herded during the fall/winter, the period of worst predation. This trial will take place on a neighboring ranch, Sol Ranch LLC operated by Emily Cornell, in a 5,000-acre pasture of mixed open and rough terrain.
Fall/winter also coincides with the time of year brush and other non-desirable species naturally increase in a goat’s diet. This research will assess goat foraging impacts on soil health and species composition. Sol Ranch LLC is also collaborating with area researchers presently working to establish long-term rangeland health monitoring in the study area. There are many ecological benefits to herded grazing of multiple species, and this could be a key component to sustainable agriculture and proper range use.
The specific objectives of the study will be to:
- Utilize daily herding techniques to reduce predation of goats.
- Compare current methods of the producer’s goat operation imported from the central Texas area to those methods we are developing in response to drastic predation losses in New Mexico.
- Quantify the effects of animal impact on the landscape.
- Identify ways in which ranchers can adopt the use of goats to improve their landscape while creating an additional source of revenue and disseminate this information through educational
- - Technical Advisor
- - Producer
- - Producer
Multi-species grazing and herding techniques were implemented in the fall/winter 2019 for approximately three months and for each subsequent year. Data will be collected over a three-year period beginning in fall 2019. The Turner Ranch, the control property, is 18 miles SE of Wagon Mound, NM and covers 15,000+/- acres including 7 miles of the Mora River and its tributaries. The study property, Sol Ranch LLC, is a cattle ranch 12 miles SE of Wagon Mound. The principal plant vegetation consists of blue gramma dominated grasslands, piñon/juniper/oak woodlands, canyons and incised arroyos, and areas formerly dryland farmed. Average annual precipitation is 15 inches with 80% occurring May-October. The elevation is approximately 6,500 feet and average temperatures range from 14-48 °F in January and 55-88 °F in July (Data, U.S. Climate, 2018).
- Utilize daily herding techniques to reduce predation of goats
Rx Grazing Services LLC was hired to preform herding of K&C Goats and arrived at the study location on the Sol Ranch in early September 2019. Goat camp was set up with a 3,000 square foot night pen using panels acquired by Syd Franz using SARE funding. Seventy-five goats were relocated from the Turner Ranch headquarters to the study location on September 14th 2019. The herder added an additional 28 goats and 7 sheep that she owned personally. Goats were kept in the night pen and fed hay for 10 days to allow them to acclimate to the new surroundings and become "attached" to the camp location. On the 11th day goats were released accompanied by the herder and three additional "riders" that included Syd Franz, Bryan Turner, and Emily Cornell.
Goats were herded daily across certain sections of the pasture for approximately 6 hrs/day by the herder. The number of days spent on each section of the pasture varied based on section size and available forage. Two horses, two LGDs, and one herding dog were part of the camp team. Goats were kept in the night pen on days with inclement weather including winds reaching over 40mph. On these days hay was provided for the goats by Syd Franz. Cottonseed cake pellets were fed to the goats each evening upon return to the pen as a reward for entering the pen. Water was provided mid-day at the main water source in the pasture and also in the night pen. Salt and mineral were also provided free choice in the night pens. Night pens were moved approximately every 2-3 weeks.
In project year 2, K&C goats were all kept on Turner Ranch. After the first project year in 2019, the project goats were returned to Turner Ranch in December 2019. They were then released with 6 LGD's and allowed to browse/graze as they wanted. Again, the predation levels were severe with 7 adults being lost in the first 2 weeks of their release. A modified herding method was adopted in March of 2020 with Syd Franz herding K&C goats continually for three weeks, then dropping back to 3-4 days a week.
Rx Grazing Services LLC was hired to implement goat herding on Sol Ranch in year two of the project. Approximately 400 head of Spanish goats were grazed on a rotation throughout the entire ranch. Due to extreme drought conditions in the local area it was decided that the best method of grazing management would be to move fast and often. This included night pen moves. Goats were herded everyday for 6-7hrs/day and then returned to "goat camp". Electric net fencing was used as a night pen encompassing approximately 1 acre in area. Goats used the same night pen for two nights before moving. Camp was moved periodically based on available forage surrounding each camp location for daily herding as well as night pens. A H2A herder was hired from Chile and arrived to take over daily herding and camp management at the beginning of January. Team members included Martin Aedo Perez, Sarah Bangert, two horses, three herding dogs, and 4 LGDs.
In project year 3, K&C Goats numbering 243 hd continued to stay at Turner Ranch. The modified herding method was again used. In June of 2021, as all the does finished kidding in intensive kidding program used in Turner Ranch, all goats were moved to the flat Prairieland pastures located above the Mora River Canyons on Turner Ranch. A night pen was set up and the goats were herded every day for 5 wks. This allowed the goats to be trained to stay in a cohesive group and encourage the kids to follow and not drag behind, thus splintering the herd into groups. Herding in the flat prairie lands above the Mora River Canyons resulted in kids being able to follow the herd better and gave the LGD’s the advantage of sparse cover for predators. Once kids were big enough to manage the rough terrain of the Mora River Canyons, the entire herd was moved back to headquarters to browse the Canyon lands. This reduced the loss of kids due to inability to manage in the rougher terrain by half from previous years. Herder was Syd Franz and 2 good Border Collies.
Rx Grazing Services LLC was hired to implement goat herding on Sol Ranch in year three of the project. Approximately 760 head of Spanish goats were grazed through herding and night penning in one large pasture on the ranch. An increase in timely precipitation in 2021 resulted in an excess of forage so the goats were only grazed in the Spear J pasture to increase herd impact through trampling of standing forage. This included night pen moves. Goats were herded everyday for 6-7hrs/day and then returned to "goat camp". Electric net fencing was used as a night pen encompassing approximately 2 acres in area. Goats used the same night pen for 2-3 nights before moving. Camp was moved periodically, but far less frequently than in 2020, based on available forage surrounding each camp location for daily herding as well as night pens. The same herder handled the herd throughout the project season. Team members included Martin Aedo Perez, Sarah Bangert, two horses, three herding dogs, and 6 LGDs.
- Compare current methods of K&C’s goat operation to new methods of predation control through herding
Multi-species grazing in Texas used smaller pastures, net fencing, and did not have high predator populations. Goats were released with herds of cattle and/or sheep with little problems or monitoring. Herders, night penning and protected kidding grounds were not necessary. The methods of predator control being developed here are in direct response to drastic predation losses being experienced now.
The second year of project (December 2020 thru February 2021) included many changes to K&C's goat operation. After observing the positive difference that a herder made in depredation, a modified herding practice was adopted. Upon returning from the 2019 project (mid December 2019), the goats that were included in the herding project were a more cohesive herd and tended to stay together much better than before the project but still experienced splits due to predator attacks. The test goats and the control goats were joined and kept up together for 3-4 days then released. In the first 2 weeks, 7 adult does were lost to predation. In March of 2020, a modified herding schedule was adopted. For the first three weeks of March, goats were herded daily as they were in the project. Then, the modified herding schedule was used throughout the year 2020. Syd Franz herded the goats 3-4 days out of a week controlling their grouping and grazing areas. The modified herding schedule continued to reinforce the cohesiveness of the goat herd and also alert predators that a human was with the herd. The number of guardian dogs was increased to six which also was a greater deterrent to predators.
It was decided for production and logistic related reasons to run K&C goats and Rx Grazing Services goats separately during the second and third year of the project. This allowed for the comparison of two different styles of herding to be compared.
In project year 3, 243 head of K&C Goats continued to stay at Turner Ranch. The modified herding method was again used. In June of 2021, as all the does finished kidding in intensive kidding program used in Turner Ranch, all goats were moved to the flat Prairieland pastures located above the Mora River Canyons on Turner Ranch. A night pen was set up and the goats were herded every day for 5 wks. This allowed the goats to be trained to stay in a cohesive group and encourage the kids to follow and not drag behind, thus splintering the herd into groups. Herding in the flat prairie lands above the Mora River Canyons resulted in kids being able to follow the herd better and gave the LGD’s the advantage of sparse cover for predators. The continued presence of a herder also deterred predators. After 5 weeks of intensive herding and night penning, the herd was turned out and allowed to roam without a herder every other day for another 4 weeks. Some days were consecutive and some on schedule of every other day. Again, roughly 90% of the time, the herd followed the same pattern of grazing set with herder on herding days. Deviations were rare but did occur when predators hit the herd on non-herding days. Once the kids were sufficient in size to manage the rougher terrain of the Mora River Canyons, the herd was moved back to it’s headquarters location. Goats were let out in the rougher terrain of the Canyon lands and herded daily for another 3 weeks to assure the kids could keep up with the herd in the rougher terrain. After 3 weeks of continued herding, the schedule was dropped back to 3-4 times a week. By starting the herd with the kids in the gentler terrain of the prairie lands above the Rimrock, the loss of kids from inability to follow and get lost was diminished. There were still losses of kids (11) due to Coyote hits and 3 adult does were lost to Mt. Lion attack. 10 LGD’s were in use with the herd and again, when the herd stayed together, the dogs were able to do their job. Unfortunately, when the herd was hit by a predator(s), it scattered into smaller groups. Some had dogs with them and some did not. The ones that did not have dogs were then picked off by predators. In December of 2021, a juvenile Mt Lion was observed stalking the herd. The herder watched as the herding dogs flushed out the cat unintentionally and then the LGDs did their job and chased it back over the rimrock. All being said, the modified herding technique used at Turner Ranch reduced losses from predation to a much more manageable number resulting in a more sustainable production level of market kids.
Control Methods for K&C Boer Goats:
In 2019 at the Turner Ranch approximately 75 goats will be penned at night and herded into certain pastures the next morning. They graze, return home on their own, and are penned with seven LGDs. The herd is counted and monitored upon morning release. Predation losses will be noted throughout the year and compared to those from the herded group.
During the second year of the project (Dec 2020 thru Feb 2021) all K&C goats stayed at Turner Ranch The control goats (250 head of adults and kids) practiced the modified herding method. This method allowed for herding 3-4 days a week and an increase in guardian dogs. Goats were again counted and monitored upon release. On herding days, the group was directed to specific browsing areas and kept from splitting into smaller groups. On non-herding days, they were released and guided to specific browsing areas and left to graze as they preferred. At that point, 8 LGDs (six mature dogs and 2 pups) were used. Interaction between LGDs and predators were observed as well as the relationship between the LGDs and their goats. Goats tended to stay in areas where they had been herded on previous days about 90% of the time. Drought conditions caused the goats to seek new browse and new areas to graze. Again, 90% of the time they tended to stay in a cohesive group allowing the dogs to protect them by deterring predators.
In the third year of our project, the modified herding method identified above was used again. Goat herd was moved to flat Prairie land pasture with young kids to train to herd in a cohesive group. When kids were big enough to manage rougher Canyon land terrain, herd was moved back to main corrals and pastures. Goats were again herded every day in Canyon Lands for 4 weeks to help ensure against losses from inability to manage rougher terrain and much heavier predator load.
Control methods used on Control group of goats at Turner Ranch included modified herding (scheduling days herding and days not herding), daily counts of returning goats, use of night pen, 10 Livestock Guardian Dogs, Satellite tracking collars (Garmin 430) put on 3 main goats and one dog. The goats used were herd leaders observed when herding goats daily and one good "drag" dog who was always with the slower group and was very bonded with his goats. Daily counts and tracking collars became our saving grace when herd was splintered and not all were in on time. The collars can be tracked up to 9 miles distance and enabled K&C to find the entire herd after a severe storm pushed the herd miles past their normal area of grazing. They were 11 miles away when found and although it took 2 days and help from neighbors, all goats were found and returned home in good shape.
- Quantify the effects of animal impact on the landscape
Species composition and ground cover:
In 2019, prior to grazing at each sampling location, transects were established, permanently marked, and data collected in two areas of the pasture by NMSU researchers and Rx Environmental Consultants. Using the line-point intercept and the canopy and basal gap protocols described by Herrick et al. (2009a), data was collected for cover and species of plants, litter, soil, woody debris, dung, and biotic crusts. To determine the density of trees within each plot, the belt transect method was used to count woody species according to size classes. Photo monitoring points to capture plant community dynamics were established. Photo's and appropriate metadata were recorded using the Avenza Maps App. All data and photo's collected using Avenza Maps was uploaded to Google Earth for viewing and storage.
Trend studies established in 2019 were not re-read in 2020/2021 as there will be few changes in one year. Two trend studies were established in 2020/2021 in an area where a woody encroachment mitigation project had taken place mechanically removing pinon and juniper trees. Using the line-point intercept and the canopy and basal gap protocols described by Herrick et al. (2009a), data was collected for cover and species of plants, litter, soil, woody debris, dung, and biotic crusts. To determine the density of trees within each plot, the belt transect method was used to count woody species according to size classes. Photo monitoring points to capture plant community dynamics were established. Photo's and appropriate metadata were recorded using the Avenza Maps App. All data and photo's collected using Avenza Maps was uploaded to Google Earth for viewing and storage.
Only anecdotal ocular observations were recorded for goat impact on Sol Ranch in 2021/2022.
Production and Utilization:
In 2019 paired-plot methods of measuring biomass production and utilization included the use of grazing exclosures, photos, and estimations through ocular observations. Production/utilization methods, described by the USDA Forest Service Appendix X (2014), was also be used. Production cages were placed in the pasture and clippings were taken at the end of the growing season by NMSU researchers to collect production data. Utilization was measured by ocular methods by Rx Environmental Consultants.
Soil Sampling and Analysis:
In 2019 soil was assessed for aggregate stability and texture by hand at all ecological sites within the study area. Line point intercept, soil stability, and canopy gap data was quantified to measure the soil surface cover, stability, and erosion susceptibility as well as water infiltration capacity (Herrick et al., 2009a). Composite soil samples were collected using a standard soil probe to a depth of 15cm at three locations within the pasture, one control location, and within the night pen.
These methods were repeated at the brush control trend study sites in 2020/2021. No data was collected in 2022.
- Identify ways in which ranchers can utilize goats to improve their landscape and create revenue and disseminate this information through educational outreach.
Research is being conducted in order to determine best herding techniques for goats, examples of start up budgets for goat enterprises, marketing options, return on investment estimates, grazing plans, information on custom grazing, monitoring options, and ecological benefits from goat foraging. This information will be disseminated as described in the education outreach plan below.
Results and discussion from herding on the survivability of goats during the 2019, 2020, 2021 experiment window as well as biotic monitoring results are described below.
Utilize daily herding techniques to reduce predation of goats
In 2019 herding proved to be extremely effective on reducing predation of goats. No goats were lost to predation during the experiment period under the care of the herder. Two kids died of health causes.
In 2020, K&C goats adopted a modified herding technique of herding goats 3-4 days a week. No losses were experienced on herding days and minimal losses were experienced on non-herding days once modified herding technique was adopted.
In 2021, K&C continued the modified herding technique of days on, days off. In addition to the modified herding technique, goats were moved to flat Prairieland for first grazing for does and kids in the herd. The move to a friendlier terrain for young kid goats to traverse resulted in a positive result of cohesiveness of the herd and reduced losses due to rough terrain of Canyon lands. While there still was predation on non herding days, the number of losses was greatly reduced to a manageable number. In addition to the modified herding technique, move to more hospitable terrain for younger kids, tracking collars were used to monitor movement of herd. Three main herd leaders and one dog were collared and allowed producer to follow movement on non herding days and track down missing goats. Daily head counts also enabled producer to identify how many goats were missing so as groups were found, the producer knew there were more out in pasture still to be found. The ability to follow the movements of the herd through the Garmin 430 tracking system was invaluable in locating missing goats. While the predation losses were greater in the K&C Control group than in RX Grazing Services LLC, the use of man hours for herding was reduced. We now have two different ways to integrate using goats in a multi-species grazing program that can be discussed.
Rx Grazing Services LLC experienced minimal predation. Predation was only experienced in one instance where a mountain lion entered the night pen during the night and killed three goats. No other losses due to predation were experienced in 2020/2021. The night that the mountain lion losses occurred there was only one adult LGD on patrol and one adolescent LGD. RxGS added two more adolescent LGDs to the team the day after the mountain lion attack which is believed to be the main reason the lion did not return. In addition, the herder did several night patrols to increase the human pressure at night for about a week after the incident. RxGS experienced immense pressure from black bears at another site over the summer months. Based on those experiences and the encounter with the lion it is clear that the more LGDs the better, however the cost to benefit ratio will limit the amount of LGDs that can be maintained while keeping the direct costs of these animals at a reasonable level. Four seems to be a good number, but another adult LGD will be added to the team when one is found for good measure.
Rx Grazing Services LLC experienced predation in 2022 with the loss of 9 goats to a mountain lion. In early Janurary a mountain lion entered the pen two nights in a row killing one nanny each night with 6 LGDs on patrol. The lion did not remove any of the carcasses. When the lion killed on the second night it was decided to move the camp closer to the night pens, bring the night pens into the open and place two LGDs inside of the night pen. New Mexico Fish and Game was also notified in the case that the animal were to return and needed to be euthanized. The night pens had gotten progressively deeper into the wooded area and further away from the herders camper as the area around camp was used. The theory was that the removal of easy places for the lion to hide and stalk, and the added pressure of the human and LGDs in direct vicinity of night pens would deter the lion. These efforts were successful and camp was moved to a different part of the pasture within a few days.
For two months there were no more losses. However, in early March the lion returned killing 6 nannies in one night. When this kill happened the herders camp was within 100 yards of the night pens and there were 2 LGDs in the night pen the night of the kill. It was decided between RxGS, Sol Ranch, and New Mexico Fish and Game officers that it was probably the same lion that had killed the two goats in Janurary and possibly the goats in 2021 making this animal a habitual offender and a real threat to the goats and other livestock in the area. NM Fish and Game officers were brought in to assess the situation. They set traps and cameras and were unsuccessful in trapping the lion on the first night. However there was no evidence that the lion returned to the kills on the night following the initial kills. On the second night of trapping efforts the lion was caught in a leg hold near dusk. NM Fish and Game euthanized the animal which was a young female lion. No predator loss was experienced after the lion was removed.
Compare current methods of K&C’s goat operation to new methods of predation control through herding
Current methods used at K&C's goat operation located on the Turner Ranch mimic many methods used in Texas. Herd is penned nightly and counted. Each morning tracking collars are put on certain lead goats and one dog. The herd is then observed for lameness, sickness or any reason an individual goat could not keep up with herd and separated from herd. Remaining herd is then counted and turned out with 4 Livestock Guardian Dogs. Herd is taken to pasture and left to graze and later return home. Upon return to night pens, turned out herd is again counted to determine losses. During the 91 day test period (9/16/19 through 12/13/19) 20 head of goats, both adult and kids, were lost at the Turner Ranch site. This represents 10.25% of total number of goats being grazed there. Roughly 44% of losses were from Mt. Lion kills/attacks and the remaining 66% were from Coyote. Losses from Coyotes were mainly 2019 kids. Losses from Mt Lion were adult breeding does. Free Range grazing allows for splintering of herd and inability of dogs to stay with multiple smaller groups. When splintered smaller groups scatter and do not have LGD's with them they become easy prey for Mt Lions and Coyotes. When a herder is used, the herd stays in one cohesive group allowing LGD's to do their job and reduce/eliminate losses to predators. The use of a herder also facilitates grazing of specific areas and more targeted reduction of woody species.
The adoption of a modified herding technique in 2020 proved to be a great change of operation for K&C goats. From March 2020 through current time, goats are herded 3-4 days a week directing grazing management and cohesiveness of herd. They have been allowed to go without being herded for up to two weeks before splintering occurs. At that point, the modified herding resumes and continued until necessity requires the herder to work elsewhere. It has been observed that goats that have been herded tend to stay in a cohesive group unless predator attacks cause them to splinter. Only 5 adult does were lost to Mt. Lion early in the year. This represent only a 4% loss of adult does due to predation. The presence of a human combined with 8 LGD's has proven a deterrent to mountain lions. Coyotes continue to be a problem with losses of 7 kids on non-herding days throughout the year. This represents a 6% loss of 2020 kid crop due to predation. It is to be noted that in January of 2021, Coyotes took down a 400lb heifer in one of the pastures the goats graze. The Coyote presence is particularly bad due to lack of water sources and hunting areas.
While Rx Grazing Services did experience predation overall the full-time herding coupled with returning goats to an established camp and night pens has shown good results in reducing predation compared to the original operational techniques at the Turner Ranch with K&C goats.
Control Methods for K&C Boer Goats:
Control methods used on Turner Ranch included tracking collars, daily head counts, night penning, use of LGD's, herding to pasture to graze and occasional location check on herd. Tracking collars were put on lead goats and certain dogs to facilitate locating herd. It was noted that herd continuously separated into multiple groups going different directions. Some groups had dog/dogs with them, some did not. It was also noted that when there were losses, the herd splintered into many different groups, some finding their way home, some succumbing to predators. Also, 19 head of goats were kept in pens as control group for proof of losses to turned out/grazing goats.
In 2020 test period, changes in control methods included, modified herding practices (herding 3-4 days a week), additional tracking collars, additional dogs and daily head counts. Modified herding practices kept control herd bunched up and directed to specific browsing areas allowing dogs to better protect herd. It also kept herd out of areas that would be difficult for kid goats to manage without getting lost. Resulting head counts confirmed a much greater yield of kids goats for sale in 2020. Losses in 2020 kid crop were reduced to 6% which is a sustainable number for kid losses due to predation.
The herding methods started by K&C in 2020 were continued throughout the project. The losses continued to run between 8% and 6% per season of market kids.
Quantify the effects of animal impact on the landscape
Effects were obtained by visual observation on the Turner Ranch location. The goats grazed pastures after the cattle and continued to reduce snake weed, juniper and oak brush. Pastures grazed by goats showed reduction in woody plants and cactus by visual observation of roughly 10% in the 91 day period. Grasses on hillsides and in pastures continued to increase and soil cover improved. Juniper encroachment was reduced by an estimated 5% through visual observation only. Grazing/browsing was done through free range access of goats. Through visual observation, continued grazing over the past five years has reduced woody species encroachment and increased grass coverage and grazing capacity on Turner Ranch.
In 2020, the control group of K&C goats continued to graze/browse pastures after the cattle. Using a modified herding system (3-4 days/week), the herd target grazed problem areas of woody species encroachment instead of just free range grazing. Again, through visual observation, reductions in snake weed, juniper and oak brush were observed in the canyon lands. Snake weed was at the lowest encroachment amount in the past 7 years down in the canyon areas. It was noted that on the prairie lands above the canyons, less of the woody species were available after being grazed for 7 years by goats and cattle. A combination of the goats grazing and drought conditions made a heavy impact in 2020 on the woody species and improved grasslands on Turner Ranch. When goats were turned out after kidding in June of 2020, they ran from Cholla plant to Cholla to eat the buds that drop off after blooming and paid little attention to any grasses available. They then went up on the sides of the rimrock to eat oak brush until things started greening up in the valley floors. In 2021, although there was little rain, it came at good times for optimum vegetation growth. Pastures on Turner Ranch showed improvement of low growing Buffalo grass as well as other species of grasses used for cattle grazing. A late snow was held in the imprints of goat hooves throughout the pastures they had grazed and retained much needed moisture.
Herding Study Site: Sol Ranch (Photos can be viewed in the media files and Photos from 2019 season):
Ocular utilization estimates of the two key species observed, Broom snakeweed and blue gramma grass, were 34% and 10% respectively. Utilization measurements were preformed after both goat and cattle grazing during 2019. Foliar cover, ground cover, and plant density of Broom snakeweed can be observed in Goat Pasture Trend Study Results 2019, Data collected by New Mexico State University.
Based on results collected at the Goat Pasture at the herding study site as well as ocular observation made by the herder broom snakeweed was rarely consumed by the goats. The herder noted an affinity for other forb species such as Prairie sagewort (Artemisia frigida), various shrub species, whiplash daisy (Erigeron flagellaris), and Western sticktight (Lappula occidentalis) to name a few. Various grasses also seemed to be a major component of the goats diet while out grazing. Juniper berries were also consumed readily, but the foliage of the Junipers was only consumed in the night pens when all other forage had been consumed. The herder also observed that the grasses and forbs were consumed first followed by Pinon pine and last to be consumed was the juniper.
Less focus was placed on targeted grazing in 2020/2021/2022 by Rx Grazing Services LLC due to herd nutritional requirements and a lack of palatable target species. It is too early to tell the overall effects that moderate intensity, short duration grazing by goats will have on the landscape. Night pen areas received the most animal impact including the defoliation of many pinon pine trees and juniper trees . Observation of the night pen areas used in 2019 showed that defoliation of these species was long lasting with very few of the woody species recovering from goat browsing in the 2020 growing season. The impacts to the soil and other species present in the night pens was moderate with some soil loss. The night pens used in 2019 were used for a much longer period (about 14 days), than the night pens in 2020/2021 (2 days). It can be assumed, based on the state of the night pen areas from 2019, that we could experience excellent results on the health of the land where the night pens were through animal impact. There were some areas where night pens were put in 2020/2021 that already had intense present and historic animal impact that may not recover well. The growing season of 2021 will give us a much better picture of these impacts. In 2021/2022 night pens were primarily placed in areas with underutilized bunch grasses with phenomal results in the way of using the herd impact to use and/or redistribute litter onto the soil surface. The goats ability to lay down dry matter and utilize forage not used by cattle is one of the best results seen over the project period. Photo graphs and charts of the effects of night pens and the results of trend studies established in 2020/2021 can be found at Brush Control Trend Results Charts. and in the media files.
Soil Sampling and Analysis:
Lab results from the soil samples taken at the night pens ( Sample ID: NP), the trend study location (Sample ID: Mogote Trend), control (Sample ID: Goat Camp Control), photo point 2 (Sample ID: PP2), and photo point 3 (Sample ID: PP3) can be observed in Soil Sample Lab Results 2019.
Lab results from soil samples in 2020/2021 are not yet available but will be posted when they are received. Soil surface stability results from the areas sampled in the brush control area can be viewed at in the media files. Impacts to the soil surface from herding and night penning is yet to be determined. It was observed that trailing had large disturbance to the soil surface as did time spent in the night pen area. While hoof action broke up the soil surface, much litter was also laid down increasing soil surface cover in many areas. Both of these impacts have the potential to show good results with increases in soil health, infiltration rates, and water retention. However, results from the surface stability results give all sites a poor to moderate stability class rating of 3.1, 3.7, and 2 for Brush Control Trend 1&2, Brush Control Trend 2 under cover, and Brush Control Trend 2 no cover, respectively. This indicates that the area is prone to surface erosion. Subsurface soil stability was not measured and would be a better indicator of the soils response to hoof action as it is a measure of soil erosion resistance after disturbance.
Identify ways in which ranchers can utilize goats to improve their landscape and create revenue and disseminate this information through educational outreach.
There are various ways ranchers can incorporate goats into their operations and improve their pastures. Each way depends on terrain being grazed/improved and extent of involvement the Rancher wishes to take on and the investment he is able to make in stock and the necessary means to raise them. The purpose of this project is to determine which way best suits each and every situation. Turner Ranch location is in rough, river canyon country with very little pastures based in flat land with no access to rimrock or canyons. While there is abundant browse consisting of Oak Brush, snakeweed, juniper and other woody species that have invaded grasslands, the trade off is increased predation losses. On pastures without or with little canyon land, predators can be better warded off by LGD's as long as herd does not splinter. The options being investigated to best utilize goats to improve landscape and create revenue are 1) Purchasing 200+ head of range raised meat goats and turning them out with LGD's and checking on them from time to time; 2) Purchase 200+ head of range raised goats and follow the methods used by K&C on the Turner Ranch (modified Texas method); 3) Purchase 200+ range raised goats and hire year round herder to manage the goats and facilitate targeted grazing; 4) Contact and hire seasonal herding company like RX Grazing Services where they will come in with their own goats and do targeted prescription grazing on your land. Current prices on good 2yr old does that have been range raised and have kidded out at least one time are running around $225 each. 200 head of does should produce at approximately 300 kids. Current market price for 5 mos old kids (60#) is running around $150 each. At an 80% production rate with an average sale price of $100/hd the possible income for goats can be $24,000 a year. The cost of herders, etc. will determine actual income.
In 2021, the current prices (March 2021) of kid goats and cull goats has risen. According to the current USDA reports dated March 7, 2021 for Producer's Livestock auction in San Angelo, Texas, #1 and 2 selection slaughter kids weighing an average of 60# averages $4.02/# for a price of $241.20 per head. These amounts compared to the $2.50/# amounts previously used to compute income represent a 62% increase of price. Even at an average of $200/head this would bring income up to $48,000 per year. It is believe that these prices will drop some, but they will continue their high over 2019 and 2020 prices due to increased demand for goat meat and their use for prescriptive grazing services.
Rx Grazing Services LLC is a start-up business with two main enterprises which are prescriptive grazing services and meat goat production. Since the start of the project the company has expanded to a owned goat herd of approximately 680 breeding nannies and has taken their services to Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico. As with any start-up business there is a steep learning curve, but a livestock centered business has unique challenges. Amongst the challenges, success are also experienced. For RxGS immense learning has been acquired around the actual realities of running a range based goat herd, solely operating on leased/contracted land, and navigating unforeseen and miscalculated business scenarios as a young, just starting agricultural entrepreneur. Drought and the COVID pandemic have also attributed to the outcomes of the first year of business for the company. Lessons learned are leading to new opportunities that are being explored by RxGS. These include new and more lucrative prescription grazing clients, and the expansion and diversification of the goat herd to absorb irregularity in precipitation, contracts/leases, and varying markets. The addition of goats either as a tool or as an enterprise to existing ranches is still expected to be a great option in the right circumstances. RxGS will continue to explore the most viable and effective ways to employ these ideas. In addition, this business model is still proving to be of great potential for people trying to break into the agriculture world.
Educational & Outreach Activities
As many have experienced over the course of events in 2020, primarily the pandemic, education and outreach has been difficult. Many workshops, field days, and meetings were either cancelled or held virtually so less education and outreach was completed for the project in 2020.
Information on the goals and objectives of this project were recently shared at an HPGA meeting on January 25, 2020 as part of a presentation on conservation projects taking place on Sol Ranch. A short video was shown which included an introduction to the people involved and the objectives of this research. This video was captured using drone technology which allows for a bird's eye view of the herding techniques being used in the first month. It is out intention to capture footage at regular intervals throughout the duration of the project in order to observe the development and change of herding techniques according to the needs of the herd and the objectives of this study. This footage will be released to the public and shared through social media.
In the next stages of education and outreach, this project will be shared through open gate tours, more HPGA meetings, and workshops on multi-species grazing and/or herding techniques to be co-hosted by HPGA and the Quivira Coalition. We intend to reach out to other organizations such as Holistic Management International, Northeastern New Mexico Livestock Association, NMSU extension, the Mora-Wagon Mound Soil Water Conservation District (MWMSWCD), New Mexico Highlands University (NMHU) and others to provide further outreach opportunities. Yearly reports and PowerPoints of this research will be shared at these gatherings. Example Power Point Presentation
Technical handouts (factsheets) will be created in the last year of the project for regional producers to reference for their land management plan. These handouts will include information regarding herding techniques, where to find LGDs and herders, basic goat production and health protocols, marketing, characterization of land health benefits from goat foraging, grazing planning, methods of monitoring for rangeland health, economic projections for goat enterprises, additional sources of research and education, and more.
Photos, videos, and updates on the project will be shared though the social media accounts of producers and researchers as well as through social media platforms such as Facebook and the Twitter account of NMSU’s Agroecosystem Resilience in Times of Drought (ARID) program. All events will be advertised through social media in order to reach a broad and diverse community.
Emily and Sarah spoke on a podcast in October about the project. That podcast can be found here https://westernsare.buzzsprout.com/711552/6109000-sol-ranch-cattle-ranching-in-a-brittle-environment.
Outreach within the producer community has begun in a passive fashion through word of mouth and networking. In a rancher community, one of the main forms of producer education occurs while producers work together and is made possible by longstanding camaraderie. Many producers are unable due to time and management constraints to seek education and assistance from organizations. Talk amongst producers can be extremely effective in the adoption of new methods. Sorry far, producers seem very interested in how the goats are impacting the land and the methods used to reduce predation.
Student education opportunities
Students from NMSU joined Associate Professor of Range Science, Amy Ganguli, as she collected data. Students participated in field data collection methods while gaining key job experience and an understanding of different rangeland management goals. This is a valuable chance for students to network with producers and gain experience with goat and cattle operations on the ground while participating in real world research that directly affects producer livelihoods.
In the future, we intend to reach out to nearby K-12 schools about providing educational field trips and/or presentations. Connecting the youth of today is important for the health of the agricultural community and landscape of the future. We would like to provide opportunities for young students to learn about goats, range health, and plant life and how they affect the health of the planet.
An intern hired through the New Mexico Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Workforce Pilot Program and an apprentice working for Sol Ranch LLC through the Quivira Coalition New Agrarian Program will be closely involved with the project and will have the opportunity to learn herding techniques, land restoration techniques, rangeland monitoring methods, business and financial strategies, and general practices involved with goat production.
Forage preferences of goats while being herded.
Using herding to reduce predation on goats.
Management of a goat herd in a remote off grid location.
Management of herder facilities, equipment, and animal team (horses, LGD's, and herding dogs) in a remote off grid location.
Predation loss is a major concern when talking with most ranchers about the option of adding a small ungulate enterprise to their operation. By showing a substantial reduction in predation losses through this project, this concern can be reduced. By adding small ungulates, goats in particular, to an existing ranching operation, the ranch can expect to see economic benefits through increased yield of pounds of protein produced per acre, therefore, increasing overall profit if the herd is large enough to offset the costs associated with hiring a full time herder. In addition rangelands can be expected to improve under proper grazing management installed by a herder through more evenly utilized range, less over grazing due to frequent moves, a reduction in certain woody species, and various other beneficial outcomes from well managed animal impact.
The timing of the project is in respect to the time of year proven to be inconvenient for the herding company as well as ineffective on passive targeting of specified species such as broom snakeweed. The project timing fell in the fall (September-December) of 2019, but will be moved to the late fall and early winter beginning November 2020 and ending in January 2021. The camp and study location proved to be well suited for easy herding and held plentiful feed but lacked access to facilities during storm events. We will consider relocating the camp and study area to an area with easier access to facilities for both the goats and the herder during the winter months. In addition, moving to an area of the experimental ranch that has a different vegetation structure and more woody encroachment would produce greater benefits to the landowner through multi-species grazing/browsing effects.
The timing of the project was changed to December 2020-February 2021. This proved to be much better timing to address the concerns experienced in 2019. However, part of the reason K&C goats were not integrated into the RxGS herd was due to a lack of training of the K&C goats to electic fence prior to the start of the project. This is necessary to ensure containment of goats in the night pens. Drought also played a major role in the management of goats at Sol Ranch and will continue to play a role in future. Due to the extreme persistent drought conditions it is uncertain if the project will continue on the land of Sol Ranch due to competition of the goats for available cattle feed as well as the nutritional requirements of the goats. Very little forage was produced during the growing season of 2020. This coupled with the lack of preferred species for the goats in areas where the goats can be effectively herded may prove that goats are not the right species/enterprise for the land used for the project. While there is plenty of goat forage in many places, it is close to impossible to control the herd and not lose animals in areas where this forage is available. The goats would be a good option/tool after mechanical treatment of these areas and/or fire as this would allow them to access areas that are currently inaccessible. It is recommended that if ranches are interested in incorporating a small ruminant enterprise to an operation, that stocking rates reflect the addition of the species without relying solely on placing goats in underutilized areas. To have a successful production model it is imperative that goats are viewed as any other production class of livestock and allocated quality feed in accessible areas to optimize their productive capabilities. With this said, goats are still able to access many areas of a ranch and utilize forage that cattle cannot especially due to their ability to travel to water, the fact that they require less water than a large group of cattle, and their diet preferences.