Sustainable and profitable control of invasive plant species by small ruminants

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2005: $178,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2009
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. James Muir
Texas A&M AgriLife Research

Annual Reports


  • Additional Plants: native plants


  • Animal Production: pasture renovation, range improvement
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, farmer to farmer, focus group, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity
  • Pest Management: biological control, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: holistic management

    Proposal abstract:

    The invasion of aggressive and undesirable vegetation is an environmental and agricultural concern common to the southeastern USA, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Both weed invasion and degradation of pasture and rangeland over-stocked with small ruminants threatens native biodiversity and sustainability of small ruminant production throughout the region. A logical connection between these is the commercial use of small ruminant flocks to control invasive weeds, thereby removing undesirable vegetation in a more environmentally friendly and sustainable manner, relieving pressure on overgrazed pasture and rangeland, and providing additional revenue streams for small ruminant producers. Although the situation is widespread and merits a regional research approach, the specific plants, soils and farming systems vary by agro-ecological zone and must be addressed individually. A multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary research and education workgroup, including small ruminant owners and landowners from five distinct locations in the southeastern USA, St. Croix and Puerto Rico is addressing this issue on both the local and regional planes. Small-scale goat farmers and landowners consulted in the region during SARE-sponsored forums (SARE Planning Grant LS03-150) expressed a strong interest in the commercial use of intensive short-duration goat/sheep browsing (ISDGB) as a sustainable, environmentally sound method for invasive plant control. However, landowners wanted to know the long-term efficacy of this natural control and the effect on subsequent native biodiversity. Sheep and goat owners needed concrete data on palatability, toxicity, nutritional quality, reproductive costs, stocking rates, browsing rotations, effect of multiple control methods, and, last but not least, economics. Using on-farm trials, the local teams will work with small ruminant owners, landowners and extension personnel as they address these issues on target invasive species in Georgia, Florida, Texas, St. Croix, and Puerto Rico. Research teams will include flock owners, landowners, plant scientists, animal scientists, and economists. Starting the second year of the project, results and recommendations will be published on-line, in the popular press and distributed through farmer-to-farmer field days in each state. The primary objective will be to facilitate the commercial use of ISDGB in the region, thereby fostering an environmentally sustainable and economically rewarding method for invasive weed control by family-owned flocks of goats and sheep.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The overall goal of this project is to address concerns raised during the SARE Planning Grant LS03-150 sponsored forums and farm visits. We hope to develop intensive, short-duration goat/sheep browsing (ISDGB) techniques specific to the southeastern USA, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that can be regionally applied to increase farm income, protect native germplasm, reduce stocking rates on rangeland, and resolve invasive weed encroachment in an environmentally safe way.

    Specific objectives will include:

    1) Develop on-farm and on-station ISDGB trials that address flock owner/landowner questions and serve as local demonstrations of this method for environmentally sustainable invasive plant control.

    2) Research specific plant:animal interface issues that will develop into the techniques that effectively control or permanently eradicate invasive plants in each environment and for each species, including stocking rates, seasonal vulnerability, browsing duration, and negative effects on both native vegetation and flock performance.

    3) Develop farmer-to-farmer contacts, demonstrations, brochures, popular press articles, web pages, and refereed articles to foment greater commercial application of ISDGB in the region.

    4) Assist both landowners and goat/sheep owners in determining equitable cost sharing (economics) for the commercial application of ISDGB.

    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.