Use of goats for sustainable vegetation management in grazing lands
The primary project goal is to increase appropriate employment of goats in sustainable vegetation management in grazing lands of the south-central US. Six research/demonstration activities were conducted in 2002, in cooperation with the following Native American Nations: Caddo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Greater Seminole, Osage, and Sac and Fox. Grazing began in the spring and ended in early fall. Field days were held at each location to present findings of the first grazing season to tribal members and local small farmers and extension personnel, as well as to provide education in meat goat production and management. Sample and data analyses and preparations for next years’ activities are underway.
Investigate effects of various goat management methods for vegetation rehabilitation/control in different grazing land settings in the south-central US.
Demonstrate and display appropriate means of vegetation management with goats in south-central US grazing lands, as well as to provide education in other related management areas.
Develop an information package on optimal use of goats for grazing land vegetation management to ensure long-term, sustainable, and widespread project impact.
Six research/demonstration activities were conducted in 2002, in cooperation with Caddo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Greater Seminole, Osage, and Sac and Fox Native American Nations. Five sites were on tribal lands and one was on the small farm of a tribal member. Each location is unique, in terms of vegetation, soil characteristics, topography, etc. Grazing treatments chosen for each site were thought most appropriate based on existing vegetation and vegetation management goals.
Pasture establishment began in mid-November, 2001 and ended in mid-May, 2002. Net wire fence was used for pasture perimeters. Interior fences to separate pastures are either net wire or electric, with use of solar chargers at some sites. Herbicide was applied to electric fence lines at the beginning of the grazing season, and there was occasional weed-whipping. Water was provided in a variety of ways, e.g., pond, spigot, gravity flow from a tank periodically filled by pumping from a nearby creek, and barrels and pickup truck. There was at least one guard dog at each location, which effectively prevented any losses to predators. Also, a sign about the activity and identifying collaborators and the USDA SARE program as the funding source was placed at each site.
A key component of this project is the thorough assessment of vegetation conditions before and after each grazing season. In the spring, permanent transects were laid in each of the study pastures along which ground cover and canopy cover of woody vegetation were measured before and after the 2002 grazing season. Soil samples were also taken from each of the pastures before grazing to analyze for fertility. At the same time, the dry-weight-rank technique was used to measure forage in numerous permanent quadrats, the locations of which were marked with a Global Positioning System (GPS) meter. These measures will be repeated prior to stocking the pastures with goats in the spring of 2003. Currently, collected data and samples are being analyzed. At two of the sites (Caddo and Cherokee), biology classes of nearby high schools will participate in 2003 through collection of some transect data. Another important measure is body weight change of goats at each site along with sheep at one location and cattle at another, with weight determined at the beginning and end of the grazing season and twice within. In addition, fecal samples were collected to monitor need to deworm and also to assess specifically what plants are being consumed by fecal microhistology. Fecal egg counts were low and deworming was unnecessary.
The Caddo Nation site is located near Gracemont and Anadarko, Oklahoma. There are 10 acres of tribal land, with two 4-acre pastures for grazing and one 2-acre control, ungrazed area. There is much lovegrass and smooth sumac, and the site has not been grazing for many years. Because of the large amount of grass, one treatment entailed co-grazing with 12 sheep and 12 goats. The second grazing treatment was stocking of 24 goats (6 per acre). Animals were placed in pastures on May 22. One of the desirable effects of grazing noted was the breaking up of large, thick bunches of lovegrass residue from previous years that was smothering current growth, which will also enhance the rate of decomposition and nutrient cycling. The goats consumed various browse plants present including patches of sand plum and buckbrush. The consumption of sumac, which was the dominant brushy species, did not begin until late summer. Honey locust and black locust trees were heavily debarked. Because of low availability of grass in mid-summer, sheep had lost some weight and thus were removed. The 36 remaining goats grazed until October 15. In addition, at this site GPS collars were placed on two goats and two sheep in the co-grazing pasture, as well as on a guard dog, to monitor spatial behavior in the middle part of the grazing season, which is collaboration with a biology class of Gracemont High School.
The Cherokee Nation site is located near Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The 20-acre plot of tribal land hosts native grass species like big bluestem, little bluestem, broomsedge, and Indiangrass, as well as introduced species such as bermudagrass and fescue. However, there is a large population of brushy plant species, among which are multiflora rose, oak and persimmon sprouts, sumac, blackberry, buckbrush, and wild rose. Also prevalent are weeds such as common ragweed. Previously the area was mowed once yearly. Objectives of the activity are to compare effects of goat grazing with other potential means of control (i.e., mowing and herbicide). Thus, the plot was divided into eight pastures. Two 5-acre pastures were grazed by goats at 6/acre (30 in each pasture); two 2-acre pastures were mowed as normally done; two 2-acre pastures were treated with conventional herbicides; and two 1-acre pastures did not receive intervention to serve as a control treatment. Goats were placed in pastures on June 6 and removed on October 9 after the field day. By the end of the grazing season, they had defoliated all undesirable plants including blackberry, buckbrush, sumac, sprouts of persimmon, and various weedy species. In addition, at this site GPS collars were placed on two goats in each pasture and a guard dog to monitor spatial behavior early and late in the grazing season, which is a collaborative study with a biology class of Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah.
The Choctaw Nation site is located near Antlers, Oklahoma at the farm of tribal member, Mr. Bill Smallwood. The approximately 22-acre pasture consists of a wooded area, predominantly post oak with a brushy understory vegetation component. Grasses include bermudagrass and bahiagrass with significant weed presence. The pasture has been previously grazed by cattle and used for hay production. The area was divided into three 7.3-acre pastures. The objective of this activity is to compare effects of grazing goats alone, co-grazing of goats and yearling crossbred beef heifers, and grazing cattle alone. Stocking rates were set low to allow hay production, with harvest in July. Goats were placed May 28 and grazing ceased on November 8. The goats kept the brushy understory of the woody area well under control and spent considerable time in the open grassy area. Woody plants heavily browsed include American beautyberry and low-hanging branches of winged elm.
The Greater Seminole Nation site is situated near Seminole, Oklahoma. As with many of the other sites, the area has not been used in agriculture recently and, thus, has become overgrown with many different brushy plant species and trees of various sizes. An 11-acre plot of tribal land located on the southeast corner of the Mekusukey Mission grounds was used. Notable plants present include poison ivy, sericea lespedeza, persimmon, oaks of various species and sizes, ragweed, buckbrush, blackberry, sumac, and eastern red cedar. The site was divided into two approximately 4.5-acre pastures plus an ungrazed 2-acre control area. There were two stocking rate treatments used with the 4.5-acre pastures in 2002, 4 and 8 goats per acre. Goats were placed in pastures on May 24; goats on the high stocking rate treatment were removed on August 30 and ones on the light treatment on October 5 after the field day. Early removal of the high stocking rate treatment allowed good grass regrowth before winter dormancy. By October 5, the light stocking rate animals had removed most foliage on the woody plant species.
The Osage Nation site is located on tribal land at Grayhorse Village, close to Fairfax, Oklahoma, and is the northern most site. The site has a variety of brushy plants and trees, such as honey locust, sumac, and eastern red cedar. The objective of the activity is to determine effects of different stocking rates with a very dense complex mixture of woody plant species. The 15-acre area was divided into three 5-acre pastures, one being an ungrazed control. Different stocking rates employed in 2002 were 4 and 8 goats/acre. In addition to consumption of tree leaves and establishment of a distinct browse line, the goats debarked a number of small trees in dense stands, particularly winged sumac. Because of low forage availability in the latter part of the summer, 30 of the 40 goats on the high stocking rate treatment were removed on September 4, which provided adequate grass regrowth before winter dormancy. Remaining animals grazed until the field day on October 12.
The Sac and Fox Nation site is located near Stroud, Oklahoma. The site is a 20-acre plot of tribal land with a variety of invasive plant species, including eastern red cedar, green briar, black locust, blackjack oak, and post oak, and there are some native grasses present. The objective of this research/demonstration activity is to compare effects on vegetation conditions of an overgrown site and animal growth of continuous moderate stocking of goats with short periods of high stocking rates. This activity has particular relevance to the potential for custom grazers moving goats from farm to farm for short periods of time. The site was divided into four pastures, one 8 acres in size and the other three each 4 acres. One 4-acre control pasture was not grazed, and the other two were grazed by 3 or 6 goats per acre. The 8-acre pasture was subdivided into four 2-acre paddocks; goats were placed in this area at a rate of 6 per acre, with the 48 goats occupying a 2-acre paddock. The initial rotations were every 10 or 11 days, slightly more frequently than initially planned. After the first rotation through each of the four 2-acre paddocks, 36 of the rotation goats were removed because of limited rainfall and slow regrowth. Similarly, approximately 1 month later, because of low forage availability three-fourths of the goats on the continuous grazing treatments were removed, and the remaining ones were removed on September 21 after the field day to allow regrowth before winter dormancy.
Field days were held at each site: Sac and Fox – September 21; Caddo – October 2; Greater Seminole – October 5; Cherokee – October 9; Osage – October 12; Choctaw – November 2. The program entailed addressing specific activities at that particular site, as well as presentation of information on meat goat production and management and an overview of happenings at the other sites. It began at 9 AM and ended in early afternoon after lunch. In addition, the program was designed to allow the opportunity for informal discussion between attendees and Institute personnel, during and after lunch. Lunch was free, and much of the menu consisted of goat products. Participating Native American Nations supplied coffee and donuts for the morning, and a tribal representative provided the welcome address to kick of the program. In addition to the presentations, discussions, and walking tours of the sites, literature such as our Goat Newsletter, Fact Sheets, and proceedings from our annual Goat Field Day were provided. In addition to describing the project in the Goat Newsletter, advertising of the field days was achieved with assistance of local extension and NRCS personnel and participating Native American Nations. Field days were advertised in local newspapers, and during the grazing season there were a number of articles in local newspapers about the project. Attendance and project interest were very good. There were many questions about next year’s activities, as well as plans for vegetation management practices at the sites subsequent to the current project. Similarly, several tribes were highly excited about vegetation changes in this first year of grazing and expressed a desire to expand the program to other tribal lands in the second year. This provided an opportunity to further address the potential for small farmers to use goats themselves as in this project on their properties, as well as to explore economic opportunities for establishment of custom goat grazing small businesses to rehabilitate or manage vegetation on land owned by others.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The end-result of this project will be the establishment and increased prevalence of safe, economical, and sustainable grazing management systems based on farm integration of goats for increased profits, elevated food supplies, enhanced long-term land productivity, and preservation or restoration of native plant species and biodiversity.