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 2003, 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 and second grazing seasons 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 planning for the 2004 Annual Goat Field Day at Langston University with the theme of use of goats for sustainable vegetation management 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 2003, 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.
Net wire fence was used for pasture perimeters at each site. 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-trimming. 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 established in each of the study pastures along which ground cover and canopy cover of woody vegetation were measured before and after the 2003 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 major forage species in numerous permanent quadrats, the locations of which were marked with a Global Positioning System (GPS) meter. These measures will be repeated in the spring of 2004. Currently, collected data and samples are being analyzed. 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 at five sites. At one site with appreciable ryegrass and bermudagrass (Choctaw), fecal egg counts became quite high during the grazing season and anthelmintics were administered.
Grazing treatments in 2003 were similar to those in 2002, except for lower stocking rates at all sites. Stocking rates were reduced because of the effects of previous year of grazing. In addition, goats were placed on the sites in May, slightly earlier than in 2002, and thus grazed for a longer period of time except for Sac and Fox and Caddo Nation sites. Even with the lower stocking rate, available herbage at the Sac and Fox site became low by mid-August due to drought. The Caddo Nation broke ground for construction of a casino complex at that site in mid-August, necessitating removal of the goats.
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 grazed for many years. Because of the large amount of grass, one treatment entailed co-grazing with 10 sheep and 10 goats. The second grazing treatment was stocking of 20 goats (5 per acre). 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. Consumption of sumac, the dominant brushy species, was only lightly grazed throughout the season. Honey locust and black locust trees were heavily debarked. 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.
The Cherokee Nation site is located near Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The 20-acre plot of tribal land hosts tall 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 annually. 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 4/acre (20 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. By the end of the grazing season, goats 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.
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 oak species with a brushy understory vegetation component. Grasses include bermudagrass, ryegrass, 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 was 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. The goats kept the brushy understory of the woody area well under control but still spent considerable time in the open grassy area. Woody plants heavily browsed include American beautyberry, low-hanging branches of winged elm, and greenbriar.
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, winged elm, 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. However, in 2003 both pastures were stocked with 4 goats per acre.
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. However, in 2003 both pastures were stocked at 4 goats per 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.
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 2 or 3 goats per acre. The 8-acre pasture was subdivided into four 2-acre paddocks; goats were placed in this area at a rate of 3 per acre, with the 24 goats occupying a 2-acre paddock. The initial rotations were every 10 or 11 days, slightly more frequently than initially planned.
Field days were held at each site: Caddo – July 9; Choctaw – August 3; Greater Seminole – August 6; Osage -August 23; Cherokee – October 10; and Sac and Fox – October 18. 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. After lunch there was a walk along the transects so attendees could view first-hand the vegetation management conducted by goats. 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. Also, 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 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. 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.
Currently, plans are being made for the 2004 Annual Goat Field Day of the E (Kika) de la Garza Institute for Goat Research of Langston University. Each year the Annual Field Day has a central theme or focal point. This year it is the theme of this project: use of goats for sustainable vegetation management. In addition to a keynote presentation about this project in the morning general session for all attendees, there will be other experts in this area presenting information. In the afternoon, there will be follow-up workshops conducted by the speakers on use of goats for sustainable vegetation management.
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.