Controlling Cedar Tree Invasion by Rotational Grazing Goats through Pasture

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2016: $6,793.00
Projected End Date: 01/30/2018
Grant Recipient: Hanson Homestead
Region: North Central
State: South Dakota
Project Coordinator:
Adam Carlson
Hanson Homestead

Annual Reports


  • Animals: goats


  • Animal Production: feed/forage, grazing management, grazing - multispecies, pasture renovation, range improvement, grazing - rotational
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems

    Proposal summary:


    Like many other pastures in the North Central Region, the Hanson pasture has an issue with invasive cedar trees. They grow quickly, spread rapidly, and are difficult to keep under control with all the other projects taking place on a busy farm. Small cedar tree seedlings (2-3 feet tall) are slowly spreading their way across the 70 acres of Hanson pasture, dominating the grass in areas and making it a less productive pasture for grazing.

    Efforts have been made to cut them, pull them, kill them with chemicals, and otherwise eradicate them, but they remain a problem. In the last four years alone, a $1200 atv mounted tree cutter was purchased and used, spot spraying was done, hand cutting of the seedlings was performed, but there continues to be more cedars trees each year. There isn’t enough man-power on the farm to devote to the spread. All of these attempts cost the farm thousands of dollars, yet the amount of cedar trees grew. Fire would control them, but for fire to be successful, it usually requires resting the pasture for a year beforehand. With only 70 acres of pasture, burning would limit the amount of cattle that could be grazed on the pasture, cutting into profits. Fire also exposes the soil surface, which would lead to erosion. The Hanson pasture is almost all hills.

    The goal for the Hanson farm is to become more sustainable in its practices, so even if some of the above efforts would have been successful, they are not sustainable. Chemicals do harm to the soil structure and organisms. Hand cutting every seedling that pops up every year requires too much of a time commitment from the farmer. Resting a pasture for burning would tie up acres, cutting into profits.


    The proposal for this grant is twofold. First, introduce 6 goats onto the west 33 acres of pasture, containing them to small areas of the pasture at a time with electric fencing. The objective would be to manage grazing pressure so that goat browsing would result in cedar defoliation. Cedar trees do not regrow after all the green is removed. The portable electric fencing will allow great flexibility in controlling the grazing pressure of the goats in an area of pasture. Secondly, rotational, multi-livestock grazing will be implemented on the same pasture. Using a combination of permanent and portable electric fencing, the pasture will be broken into paddocks, and each paddock will be strip grazed using the portable electric fencing. The goats can run over the area first, eating the cedar trees. The cattle will follow behind, eating the pasture grasses, encouraging them to sprout new growth. By rotational grazing the cattle behind the goats, the pasture soil will become more vigorous and healthier than it currently is, giving the grasses an upper hand over the invasive cedar trees. By weakening/killing the cedar trees and simultaneously strengthening the pasture soil, the spread of the cedar tree seedlings could be halted and reversed. If successful, this same process could then be rolled out to the east pasture, although that is not part of the scope of this grant proposal.

    This would all be in vain, though, if we did not take care of the root cause of the problem; the mature cedar trees on the property that provide the seeds for new seedlings to appear. The mature cedar trees would be cut down to remove the source. New trees would be planted in their place, although this is not part of the grant proposal.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Investigate the use of goats to control the invasion of cedar trees in pasture through rotational grazing.
    2. Improve soil health through rotational grazing, rather than using chemical or fire to control cedar tree growth.
    3. Enable farmers to increase the number of livestock they can raise by removing cedar trees from pasture, increasing productivity and profits.
    4. Share project results with others through a field day and social media.
    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.