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 on a neighbor’s property, the Spear J Ranch, in a 5,000-acre pasture of mixed open and rough terrain during the fall/winter, the time of worst predation.
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. The Spear J 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
Multi-species grazing and herding techniques was 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 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 5,500 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 in early September. Goat camp was set up with a 3,000 square foot night pen using panels acquired by Syd Franz using SARE funding. 75 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.
- 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.
Control Methods for K&C Boer Goats:
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.
- Quantify the effects of animal impact on the landscape
Species composition and ground cover:
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.
Production and Utilization:
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:
Soil was assessed for aggregate stability and texture by hand at all ecological sites within the study area annually. 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.
- Identify ways in which ranchers can utilize goats to improve their landscape and create revenue and disseminate this information through educational outreach.
Research will be 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 survivabilty of goats during the 2019 experiment window as well as biotic monitoring results are described below.
Utilize daily herding techniques to reduce predation of goats
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.
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.
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.
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 impact 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.
Herding Study Site: Goat Pasture (Photos can be viewed in 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.
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.
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.
Educational & Outreach Activities
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 Emily Cornell’s property. 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.
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 under Emily 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.