Intensive Rotational Grazing with Sheep on Riparian Land to Target Invasive Reed Canary Grass and Common Buckthorn

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2015: $7,477.00
Projected End Date: 02/15/2017
Grant Recipient: Bear Street Ranch
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
Nancy Lunzer
Farm / Ranch

Annual Reports


  • Animals: sheep


  • Animal Production: parasite control
  • Pest Management: physical control, weed ecology

    Proposal summary:


    Buckthorn destroys wildlife habitat by replacing native vegetation and forming an impenetrable understory layer which causes long-term decline of a forest by preventing the growth of native species.

    Buckthorn has invaded many public parks. This project will determine what it takes to move sheep off the farm to target invasive species on public lands. Concerns are: fencing, aquatic biting flies and predators.
    Predators account for 40 percent of losses to sheep production. Sheep have no defenses against predators. This project will use 4 foot high electro-web fences to keep the flock safe from common predators like dogs and coyotes.

    Billions of dollars a year are spent on control of biting flies. Pressure from biting flies reduces productivity and limits grazing periods. Roger Moon PHD is a veterinary entomologist; University of Minnesota will help with fly control.

    Aquatic flies (Deer Flies and Horse Flies) are attracted to the movement of grazing animals. The flies hunt as a group; some flies distract the animal while female flies inflict painful bites to get blood to reproduce. The female lays her eggs in water and the larva feed on soft-bodied animals in swamp muck and mature to winged flies. Aquatic flies keep livestock from grazing during the day.

    Filth Flies (Stable Flies and House Flies) plague the sheep inside or outside the barn. Stable flies have a life cycle that requires damp rotting vegetation for egg laying and larval production. The maggots live off bacteria and mature into pupae and then winged adults. The adults have hardened bayonet-like mouth parts that penetrated the skin to take a blood meal. The entire life cycle takes 1-3 weeks. Fly traps will be tested: The Nzi Fly Trap (Nzi is Swahili for fly) will trap Aquatic Flies and Bite-Free Fly Traps will trap Filth Flies.

    When a sheep ingests a sheep parasite it takes up residence in the intestinal tract, lungs or blood stream, feeding off its host and shedding eggs into the environment. When a horse picks up a sheep parasite the parasite dies because it cannot use the horse as a host. That is called a species-specific parasite. Grazing multi-species of animals can sweep up parasites from opposite species and reduce the need for wormers and possible pesticide resistant parasites. Fecal samples will measure parasite load.

    The river’s banks are predominantly invasive Reed Canary Grass. It forms dense, highly productive single species stands that pose a major threat to many wetland ecosystems. Reed canary grass is extremely aggressive and often forms persistent, monocultures. It spreads by seeds and tillering rhizomes. The species grows so vigorously that it is able to inhibit and eliminate competing species. Unlike native wetland vegetation, dense stands of Reed canary grass have little value for wildlife. Few species eat the grass, and the stems grow too densely to provide adequate cover for small mammals and waterfowl. In addition, areas that have existed as reed canary grass monocultures for extended periods have seed banks that are devoid of native species. The species is considered a serious weed because infestations can increase siltation. Grazing with sheep will suppress the reed canary grass and allow native species to re-populate the river banks. Tom Gervais, a grazing specialist with the NRCS will consult on project.

    The Groundhouse River flows into the watersheds of the Snake, the St Croix, and the Mississippi river to the Gulf of Mexico. Fifty major U.S. cities rely on the Mississippi as a source for drinking water. The choices on this farm impact thousands of lives downstream.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Develop sustainable sheep grazing methods using intensive rotational grazing, multi species grazing, electro web fencing and fly traps to address the problems of invasive Buckthorn and Reed Canary grass and internal parasites.
    2. Test to determine whether these methods benefit the environment by improving soil quality.
    3. Benefit farmers economically by determining an inexpensive method of controlling these invasive plant species and internal parasites.


    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.