Meat-goat farming is becoming popular to many small-scale farmers in Alabama. However, making this business sustainable is a challenge, especially with the existing poor pastures and grazing practices. Not much information is available on suitable forages for improving goat pastures and managing them sustainably. The objectives of this study were 1) to improve the existing goat pastures by incorporating selected cool-season forages, and 2) to determine goats’ preference for the selected forages. The study was conducted in Selma and Phenix City, Alabama as a randomized complete block with three replications in each site. Five treatments: mixture of Marshall ryegrass (Lolium multiforum) and one of the selected cool-season legumes (arrowleaf clover, Trifolium vesiculosum; berseem clover, Trifolium alexandrinum; crimson clover, Trifolium incarnatum; hairy vetch, Vicia villosa; and winter peas, Pisum sativum) and a control of sole Marshall ryegrass plantings were tested. Pastures were managed with rotational grazing. Forage biomass before grazing, and forage height both before and after grazing were measured. Marshall ryegrass-crimson clover and Marshall ryegrass-hairy vetch mixtures were most productive among the treatments. All selected legumes and Marshall ryegrass were readily eaten by goats from the very beginning, except winter peas, which was consumed well from the second grazing. The study results show that 1) crimson clover and hairy vetch are the most competitive legumes to be planted with Marshall ryegrass for enhancing goat winter pastures although goats would readily consume any of the selected forages, and 2) the selected forages can be managed well with rotational grazing. Cooperator producers were able to save $221/month or more in the feeding costs of their goats because of developing winter pastures. Findings of this research will be very useful to goat producers and Extension personnel for improving and managing goat pastures, and eventually promoting the sustainability of goat farming.
Keywords: Marshall ryegrass, arrowleaf clover, berseem clover, crimson clover, hairy vetch, rotational grazing, winter peas
Meat goat is the major small ruminant species in Alabama, and becoming popular among small-scale farmers basically as a part-time business as it requires low initial investment in comparison to many other agricultural enterprises. Moreover, because of its smaller size compared to large ruminants, retirees or people towards the retirement age are feeling comfortable with goat farming and initiating this enterprise to continue their active life and support income. Goat meat has a niche market for different ethnic and faith-based groups: Asians, Caribbean, Hispanics, Africans, and Muslims (Kebede, 2005). This market is growing with increasing ethnic population (Jones, 2003; Solaiman, 2007). Future demand for goat meat is expected to increase at a very high rate as Hispanics and Asians are projected to share respectively 30 percent and 9 percent of US population by 2050 (USCB, 2008). Despite the increasing popularity and market of meat goats, the production practices are still not very much sustainable. One of the important reasons for this is poor pasture. Most of the producers do not have a good pasture improvement and management program, so need to depend on hay or commercial feeds to sustain their goats for about five to six months from late fall to late winter or early spring. Supplementary feeding is costlier than grazing because it involves 1) investment to buy feedstuff, and to develop and maintain storage facilities, 2) extra labor to feed goats, and 3) storage and feeding loss of feedstuffs. Thirty percent or higher loss of hay dry matter may occur when stored unprotected in open fields (Ball et al. 2007). Kallenbach (2000) mentioned that storage and feeding loss of hay dry matter may reach 50 percent or higher. Farmers may make negligible or no money when production costs are high. From different farm visits and communication with the producers, the investigators of this project found out that livestock producers were spending a lot on purchased feed including hay. Many producers initiate goat farming before developing a good pasture required to sustain their goats. Mostly, producers depend on the existing pastures, and hesitate to introduce new forage species, especially legumes. There are several reasons for this reluctance: 1) they are not sure which forage species, especially legumes, is readily eaten by goats, 2) which forage species would be most suitable for the soil and environmental condition of their pastureland, 3) most farmers do not have established facilities for rotational grazing system, which is required for the sustainable management of most of the multi-species pastures such as that involve different species of grass and legume, 4) costs involved for the required inputs and facility establishment, and 5) not sure whether the enhanced pasture and rotational grazing management would benefit them significantly after making all the required spending and time involvement. The improvement of the existing pastures and managing them sustainably by adopting sustainable grazing systems would be possible by conducting on-farm research, demonstrating the research results to the producers, and educating them on the important steps involved in this process.
Ball, D. M., C. G. Hoveland, and G. D. Lacefield. 2007. Southern Forages, Fourth ed. International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), Norcross, GA.Jones, K. 2003. Meat goats: a growing industry. Economic Research Service, USDA.Kallenbach, R. 2000. Reducing losses when feeding hay to beef cattle. MU Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia. http://extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=G4570. Accessed on Dec. 24, 2013.
Kebede, E. 2005. Goat meat demand in the U.S. and goat meat marketing potential in the Southeast. George Washington Carver Agricultural Experiment Station, Tuskegee University, Publication No.113-905.
Solaiman, S.G. 2007. Comparing goat production economics on different production systems in the Southeastern U.S. Notes on Goats. Tuskegee University Publication No.07-11. http://www.boergoats.com/clean/articles/solaiman/2007-11feedcompare.htm. Accessed on Dec. 24, 2013.
USCB, U.S. Census Bureau. 2008. An older and more diverse nation by midcentury. U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C. 20233.
1. To improve the existing goat pastures by incorporating selected cool-season forages
2. To determine goats’ preference for the selected forages
This study was conducted in the farms of two cooperator producers: Mr. Gregory Scott from Selma and Mr. Nimrod Stephens from Phenix City, Alabama. Each site had ‘sandy’ and ‘loams and light clays’ type of soil. Soil samples from each site were tested for necessary liming and fertilization, and lime and fertilizers were applied based on the soil test recommendations for the selected forages. Lime was applied three months before planting, and phosphorus and potassium fertilizers were applied at the time of planting. The study was set up as a randomized complete block design with three replications in each site. Each replication contained six equal strips, where the selected treatments and a control were randomly allocated. Five treatments: mixtures of Marshall ryegrass (Lolium multiforum) and one of the selected cool-season legumes (arrowleaf clover, Trifolium vesiculosum; berseem clover, Trifolium alexandrinum; crimson clover, Trifolium incarnatum; hairy vetch, Vicia villosa; and winter peas, Pisum sativum) and a control of sole Marshall ryegrass were tested in the study. Seed rate for all grass-legume mixtures contained 60 percent grass and 40 percent legume seeds. Nitrogen fertilizer was applied only to sole Marshall ryegrass strips in divided doses: 50% of the recommended amount from soil test when the forage germinated well and the strips looked green, and remaining 50% after the first grazing. Perimeter and cross fencings were established to develop each replication as a paddock for rotational grazing. Continuous water supply was made available to each paddock for the grazing goats. When forages were well established and reached the grazing height, three biomass samples from each strip were clipped to 5 cm within 0.25 m2 quadrats before each rotational grazing began in each replication throughout the 2012 cool-season growing period. After sample collection, goats were allowed to graze the paddocks rotationally. Goats used in this study were mostly Boar, and few Kikos and Nubians in Selma, and Boer and crosses of Boer, Kiko, or Spanish in Phenix City. Forage heights both before and after grazing were measured. During the cool-season growing period (December or January to April), samples were collected two or three times each cool-season growing period from both study sites. Forage samples were brought to the Tuskegee University laboratory immediately after collection, dried at 60oC for 72 hours, and weighed for dry matter determination. Dried samples were ground through 2 mm mesh and sent to Auburn University Soil Testing Laboratory for quality (ADF, acid detergent fiber; CP, crude protein) evaluation. Forage biomass data were analyzed using the Mixed model (SAS 9.3) with block as ‘random’ and sampling sequence as ‘repeated’ factors without specifying any covariance structure as this produced the best ‘fit statistics’ for the data set (Littell et al. 2006). Treatment and sampling sequence were the main sources of variation. Alpha probability level for rejection of the H0 (null hypotheses) in favor of Ha (alternative hypotheses) was set at 0.05. Following was the general model used to analyze the forage biomass data.
Yijk = value of an observation taken at the kth sampling date in jth block and ith treatment
µ = grand mean
αi = main effect of ith treatment, i = 1, 2, ….., 6
γk = main effect of kth sampling sequence, k = 1, 2, 3
(αγ)ik = interaction effect of ith treatment and kth sampling sequence
eijk = error associated with the kth sampling sequence in jth block and ith treatment
Forage height and quality data were also analyzed using the Mixed model, but without the repeated factor.
Littell, R.C., G.A. Milliken, W.W. Stroup, R.D. Wolfinger, and O. Schabenberger. 2006. SAS® for mixed models. 2nd ed. SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC, USA. 814 p.
Objective1. To improve the existing goat pastures by incorporating selected cool-season forages
1. Selma study site
Average grass, legume, and total forage dry matter production and forage quality for different treatments in Selma study site is presented in Table 1. Among the treatments, crimson clover-Marshall ryegrass (3.94 ton/acre) and hairy vetch-Marshall ryegrass (3.82 ton/acre) produced the highest amount of biomass. These combinations also showed better quality with 15.7% and 16.3% crude protein respectively than sole ryegrass.
2. Phenix City study site
Among the legume biomass from different treatments in Phenix City, crimson clover produced higher biomass than arrowleaf clover and berseem clover (Table 2). However, the total biomass production was not different among the treatments. Crude protein content of crimson clover- Marshall ryegrass and winter peas-Marshall ryegrass treatments remained higher than that of sole Marshall ryegrass.
Objective 2. To determine goats’ preference for the selected forages
1. Selma study site
Goats readily consumed forages from all treatments throughout the cool-season grazing period, except winter peas at the very first grazing in both study years. From the second grazing, winter peas were also readily eaten by goats. It can be seen in Table 3 that both grass and legume heights after grazing were significantly reduced compared to the heights before grazing for all treatments. Among the treatments, grass height before grazing was higher for legume-Marshall ryegrass mixtures, except berseem clover, compared to sole Marshall ryegrass pasture. Similarly, legume height before grazing was highest for winter peas-Marshall ryegrass and hairy vetch-Marshall ryegrass mixtures, and the after-grazing stubble height was the highest for winter peas-Mashall ryegrass mixture. This result could be because of the avoidance of winter peas by goats at the very first grazing.
2. Phenix City study site
The average forage height for Phenix City before and after grazing is presented in Table 4. The grazing pattern remained the same as in Selma with goats avoiding winter peas at the very first exposure, and consuming it well from the second exposure. All other legumes and Marshall ryegrass were eaten well from the very beginning. Forage height for all treatments was significantly reduced after grazing. Both grass and legume heights before and after grazing remained the highest for winter peas-Marshall ryegrass treatment.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Three field days, two in Selma and one in Phenix City, were conducted during the project period. Around sixty farmers and Extension professionals participated in the field days. Several presentations based on this research were made at various training programs, field days, and professional conferences as listed below:
Karki, L. B. and U. Karki. 2013. Winter forage program promotes the sustainability of goat farming. The Professional Agricultural Workers Conference, Dec. 8-10,Kellogg Conference Center, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL 36088. (Abstract and oral presentation)
Karki, U.2013.Healthy pastures for goats.The second National Goat Conference, September 15-19, Sheraton Greensboro Hotel, Greensboro, North Carolina. (Oral presentation and proceedings paper).
Karki, U., N. Gurung, and A. Elliott. 2012. Winter forages for goats for developing year-round grazing system. The Professional Agricultural Workers Conference, Dec. 2-4,Kellogg Conference Center, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL 36088. (Abstract, oral presentation, proceedings paper)
Karki, U.,L. B. Karki, N. K. Gurung, and A. Elliott. 2012. Sustainable goat farming: pasture enhancement and identification of suitable forages for goats. American Society of Animal Science – ADSA-ASAS 2012 Joint Annual Meeting, Jul 15-19, Phoenix, Arizona (United States). (Abstract and oral presentation).
Karki, U, N. K. Gurung, A. Elliott, and J. Moore. 2012. Working with small farmers for promoting sustainable livestock production system. 6th National Small Farm Conference “Promoting the Successes of Small Farmers and Ranchers”, September 18-20, Tennessee State University, Memphis, Tennessee. (Abstract, oral presentation, and proceedings paper).
Karki, U. 2012. Year-round pastures and sustainable grazing management. Presented at Greene/Sumter livestock workshop, April 14, 2012, 16378 CO. Rd. 20 Boligee, AL 35443, Levi Morrow Farm. Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program.
Karki, U. 2012. Sustainable grazing management. Presented at ‘Year-round pasture production and management’ field day, April 7, 2012, 508 14th Street, Phenix City, AL 36867, Russell County Extension Office. SSARE on-farm project and Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program.
Karki, U. 2012. Important steps for establishing forages. Presented at ‘Year-round pasture production and management’ field day, April 7, 2012, 508 14th Street, Phenix City, AL 36867, Russell County Extension Office. SSARE on-farm project and Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program.
Karki, U. 2012. Sustainable grazing management. Presented at ‘Year-round pasture production and management’ field day, March 24, 2012, 2519 U.S. highway 80 west, Selma, AL 36701, The Central Alabama Farmers Cooperatives. SSARE on-farm project and Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program.
Karki, U. 2012. Important steps for establishing forages. Presented at ‘Year-round pasture production and management’ field day, March 24, 2012, 2519 U.S. highway 80 west, Selma, AL 36701, The Central Alabama Farmers Cooperatives. SSARE on-farm project and Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program.
Karki, U. 2013. Pasture production and management. Presented at 121st Annual Farmers Conference, February 22, Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Alabama.
Karki, U. 2013. Important steps of forage establishment. Presented at pasture establishment and goat production field day, conducted by Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program and hosted by Women and Youth in Agriculture, May 14, Camden, Alabama.
Karki, U. 2013. Forage establishment and grazing management. Presented at the year-round pasture production and sustainable grazing management field day, June 8, sponsored by SSARE on-farm project and conducted by Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program, Selma, Alabama.
Accepted for presentation in 2014
Karki, U., L. B. Karki, N. K. Gurung, and A. Elliott. 2014. Suitable Winter Forages for Goats: Productivity, Quality, and Goats’ Preference. American Society of Animal Science – Southern Section Meeting, Feb. 1-4, Dallas, Texas (United States). (Abstract accepted for oral presentation)
Karki, U., N. Gurung, and A. Elliott. 2014. Winter forages for sustainable goat production. American Forage and Grassland Council Conference, Jan. 12-14, Memphis, TN. (Abstract accepted for oral presentation)
Karki, U., L. B. Karki, N. K. Gurung, and A. Elliott. 2013. Cool-season forages for sustainable goat production: Research highlights. Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program. Publication No. TULIV-1311-01 (In press)
_ 2014. Winter Forages for Sustainable Goat Production: Productivity, Quality, Goats’ Preference, and Economics (Journal of Animal Science, manuscript in development)
The cooperator producers are continuing with the improved pastures and rotational grazing to manage their goat herds. They also planted few acres to warm-season forages, and are in the process of improving the remaining acres of their pastures. Several local goat producers and other types of ruminant livestock producers participated in the field days and toured the farms. These participants were very much impressed with the cool-season pastures and the benefits the cooperator producers were getting from pasture development. At least one of these research sites will be maintained as a year-round pasture and sustainable grazing demonstration site by Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program and used to continuously educate the local goat producers. Several participants are in the process of improving their pastures and managing them with rotational grazing system.
Both the cooperator producers were requested to keep records of expenses for feeding their goats on a pre-structured record-keeping format beginning October 2011. They were also interviewed for other benefits they realized after the development of winter pastures, such as labor saving, decrease in parasite problems, and improvements in goat health and performance. Partial enterprise budgeting was used to determine the savings in feeding costs because of the cool-season pastures. Savings from not having to use nitrogen fertilizer was appraised from the pasture area planted to legumes and the estimated nitrogen fixation values for these legumes (Ball et al., 2007).
The cooperator producer in Selma was able to save $221.00 per month in feeding costs of his 40 goats after developing the cool-season pastures (Table 5). Before developing the cool-season pastures, the feeding costs per month was $301.00, which was reduced to $80.00 per month after the cool-season pastures were developed (Karki, 2013).
Similarly, savings in feeding costs for 35 goats was $237.50 per month for the cooperator producer from Phenix City, Alabama because of cool-season pastures development (Table 6). The monthly feeding costs before and after developing cool-season pastures were $300.00 and $62.50, respectively. There was no need to purchase hay or feeds from February to April because of abundant cool-season forages available for grazing (Karki, 2013).
Besides savings in feeding costs, savings in nitrogen fertilizer use was estimated to be $423.50 for Selma and $212.50 for Phenix City respectively because of planting leguminous forages in their pastures (Karki, 2013). Because legumes fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil, there is no need to apply nitrogen fertilizers when the forage stand consists of 33 percent or more legumes. In both of the study sites, no nitrogen fertilizer was used in legume-Marshall ryegrass mixed pastures as these pastures consisted of 40 percent legumes. Moreover, cooperator producers from both sites mentioned that goats performed better and showed fewer parasitic and other health problems while they were on cool-season pastures as compared to previous years during the same time. Additionally, because of cool-season pastures development, the producers saved one hour of work per day that would otherwise have been spent on feeding and taking care of sickly goats (personal communication, June 2012).
Karki, L. B. 2013. The economics of year-round forage production and grazing/browsing management. Page 171 in Sustainable Year-Round Forage Production and Grazing/Browsing Management for goats in the Southern Region. U. Karki, ed. Tuskegee University Cooperative Extension Program, Tuskegee, AL.
This project work served as a real eye-opener for the cooperator producers as well as many other producers who participated in the field days, visited the research sites, and saw the productive, quality winter pastures containing grass and legume forages. These participants were very much excited to know the benefits the cooperator producers were realizing in terms of savings in feeding costs, labor, and other production costs, improvements in goat health and production, and reduction in parasite and disease problems. Moreover, the project research outputs also encouraged Extension field professionals to replicate the similar work and education program to serve livestock producers in their working areas. Other than field days conducted on the research sites, project investigators were invited to speak at various field days and training programs organized by other institutions at various locations in the state. Additionally, research findings were shared with scientific community, Extension professionals, and producers from other states through presentations in several conferences.
A brief survey of 27 participant producers after the training programs and field days showed that 59% tested soil, 52% controlled weed, 74% applied lime and planted winter forages, 70 applied fertilizers, 74% developed cross fencing, 59% developed watering facility, and 44% developed animal shelter. Moreover, there were 487 views of the relevant educational materials and notices posted on the web (http://drkarkiu.blogspot.com/) by the principal investigator.
Areas needing additional study
Studies on additional cool-season and warm-season grasses and legumes as well as browse species suitable to specific locations and their sustainable management will be useful for goat producers to enhance their pastures and make the production system more sustainable. Additionally, associated changes because of improvements in pastures and grazing systems, such as soil and water quality, economics, and health and performance of goats will be worthwhile to investigate.