Using Small Ruminants to Improve Forage Availability in Michigan Equine Pastures
May 12, 2016 the goats arrive at my farm from Nebraska. All fifteen goats arrived healthy and rested. May 13, 2016 I began transitioning the herd, all does, to the test areas set up to acclimate them and me to our new adventure. May 22, 2016 I transitioned the goats to the 3 acre study plot. The goats grazed and browsed the study plot until mid September. During that time the goats were weighed every 3 weeks, they received needed vaccinations, their hooves were trimmed and a buck was introduced on June 14 and lived with does until August 3. September 14, 2016 we held a brief talk on the project and took the 30 participants on a pasture walk to highlight the accomplishments of the project. The beginning of December the goats started living in their winter paddock and started eating a diet of hay and corn. They were ultra sounded to confirm if any were pregnant. Non of the does were pregnant. The buck was brought back in on Jan 3, 2017 and as of Jan 17, 2017 is still living with does. The path for 2017 is to continue to utilize goats to browse invasive species and control pasture overgrowth, to research and to develop a market for the meat product that I intend to produce. The group is also scheduled for 3-5 educational talks with agricultural groups in Michigan in 2017.
- To increase forage availability in equine pastures by using goats to control undesirable species;
- To investigate a biological method for controlling undesirable plant species while protecting natural habitat by avoiding chemical method of control;
- To evaluate the possibility of creating a business opportunity in the goat market to diversify farming operation;
- Exemplify and expand use of land base resources;
-Goats may play an active role in eliminating the Autumn Olive and Multiflora Rose growing in pastures as well as other potential toxic plants known to equine pastures.
-Improve forage availability in horse pastures to allow for longer grazing season and reduce hay input costs.
-Obtaining small ruminants to control undesirable plant species on the farm may in turn create a business opportunity in the goat meat industry that will ultimately diversify the operation and expand the use of established land base resources.
- Finding a single source from which to purchase goats that were educated browsers.
- Acclimating the goats to their new home, acclimating the resident horses and ponies to the goats and educating students and staff in the care and keeping of the goats.
- Day to day goat management. My biggest goal, keeping the goats healthy, safe from predators, alive and thriving.
- Organizing and setting up the study plot.
- Implementing a breeding plan.
- Presenting our results in educational programs and field demos.
- Preparing for the winter care and keeping of goats.
- Started to research markets for goat meat product.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
This has so far been a very rewarding project. The goats successfully cleared the 3 acre study area without the use of mechanical devices or chemical application. Having the goats do the work has saved my family hours of our own labor or the expense of having to hire out the labor. The goats cleared additional selected sections beyond the study area which further proved their value for including them in my farm operation. By using the goats to clear the overgrowth they provided their own forage for about 6 months which reduces the cost of raising them and eventually the overheard costs of selling any produced for meat. I foresee the goats being an important piece of our farm ecosystem. The goats are also very fascinating and fun to watch. They added to our daily enjoyment of farming and have become animals we want to include on our farm.
Statewide Equine Educator
1715 Lansing Ave
Jackson, MI 49202
Office Phone: 517-788-4292
Statewide Small Ruminant Educator
1715 Lansing Ave
Jackson, MI 49202
Office Phone: 517-719-4292
Associate Professor MSU College of Veterinary Medicine
736 Wilson Rd
East Lansing, MI 48824
Office Phone: 517-353-9710