Implementing Noxious Weed Control Through Multi-Species Grazing

2004 Annual Report for SW03-006

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $187,935.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Matching Federal Funds: $187,935.00
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Donald D. Nelson
Washington State University

Implementing Noxious Weed Control Through Multi-Species Grazing


A partnership including private landowners, a contract sheep and goat grazer, Washington State University Extension, USDA/ARS, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Big Bend RC & D have joined forces to investigate the use of multi-species grazing as a tool, in combination with herbicides, mechanical clipping and/or tillage, in the control of noxious weed infestations. Grazing combinations of cattle, sheep and goats will be evaluated as a tool in an integrated pest management strategy in the control of invasive plants. Two field sites have been selected in Eastern Washington to monitor treatment impact over three grazing seasons (2004-2006).

Objectives/Performance Targets

Management Support Group (MSG): One MSG group made up of 6-12 participants and livestock owners involved in the SARE/PDP, Noxious Weed Control Through Multi-Species Grazing and other cooperators will be formed by January 1, 2003.

Holistic system: Develop a holistic systems approach on two ranch units, involving 2,600 acres, to address the control of invasive plants and noxious weeds, including Russian olive, Scotch thistle, perennial pepperweed and knapweed species. This system will evaluate weed management effectiveness and long-term sustainability of control, and it will outline a process that is economically, environmentally and socially sound.

Overall effectiveness: Compare overall effectiveness of the holistic system to an herbicide only system.

Information dispersal: Provide information to producers and the community to improve their ability to formulate land management decisions based on sustainability of the weed control methods.

Producer involvement in studies: Involve 10 additional producers in designing and implementing studies to ensure the information meets the needs of producers and is transferred to a larger audience.

Hands-on teaching: Provide participants with a deeper understanding of the concepts of multi-species grazing by teaching what they have learned to the public and their peers at 3 tours held each year beginning in 2005.

Enterprise evaluation: Evaluate the feasibility of adding additional enterprises such as hair sheep, cashmere fiber-producing goats and meat goats.

Forage quality: Determine if forage quality is adequate to meet animal nutritional needs at various stages of plant growth and biological stages of the livestock species used.

Livestock management: Evaluate the effectiveness of each livestock species in utilizing each noxious weed species. Determine the most appropriate livestock species to be used at different stages of growth for each noxious weed. Gain knowledge of when, how much and how often to graze the animals to have the maximum impact on the weeds with minimum impact on the desirable species.

Secondary compounds: Determine if there are any secondary compounds that may inhibit the utilization of the noxious weeds, as well as the impact on soils and plant germination.

Professional publications: Publish information and results of the study in 2 professional journals and 2 regional media publications.


Management Support Groups (MSG)

The current MSG is made-up of Michael Crowder (Manager of Barker Ranch), Amy Hummer (WSU graduate student assistant), Tyler Simi (employee of cattle grazer on Barker Ranch), Rex Harder (co-owner of Hercules Ranch on Sprague Lake), Craig Madsen (grazing subcontractor), Donald D. Nelson (WSU Extension Beef Specialist), Skip Stonesifer (Wildlife Biologist, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife), Edd Bracken (WDFW), Brian Cole (WDFW), Roger Nelson (WDFW) Jim Dobrowolski (WSU Extension Rangeland Hydrologist) and Andrea Mann (Coordinator, Big Bend RC & D).

Information dispersal

6/05: A press release entitled, Goats and Cattle Used for Invasive Vegetation Control, was widely distributed to promote the field tour at the Barker Ranch scheduled for 8/16/05.

8/16/05: A field tour attended by approximately 25 people was held at the Barker Ranch near West Richland, Washington. This tour highlighted the effects of multi-species grazing with goats and cattle on invasive vegetation.

8/05: A press release entitled, Big Bend RC&D Hosts Successful SARE Tour, was widely distributed

Articles were also submitted to Washington NRCS Current Developments publication and the SARE section of the National NRCS News website.

Enterprise evaluation

The majority of this year’s (2005) male goats were sold to a farmer in Western Washington who sells them directly from her farm. They were all sold for $1.10 per pound. She prefers goats that are in the 60-80 pound range. About 20 head of wethers that were less than 40 pounds were held back to be sold in the spring. About 10% of the doelings are being kept for replacements. Some doelings are being sold to people who want to start or expand their goat herds and the remaining ones will be sold for meat in the spring. A report on the goat meat market in the northwest was recently completed by the Northwest Cooperative Development Center. It is called the FEASIBILITY REPORT FOR THE NORTHWEST GOAT MEAT PRODUCERS GOAT MEAT MARKETING IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES (

The report discusses the opportunities for U.S. goat producers to expand to meet the demand for goat meat in the United States. Currently the demand in meat markets and restaurants is supplied through imports of feral goat meat from New Zealand, Australia, and Mexico, which is an inexpensive frozen product. This situation creates both opportunities and challenges for the U.S. goat producer to provide a quality product to the consumer.

Forage quality

Note: The 2004 forage analyses were done by USDA-ARS in Burns, Oregon, through Michael Carpinelli. Since Michael has left ARS to go to work for NRCS, this connection is no longer available.

Craig Madsen, Healing Hooves, LLC submitted a bulrush sample to soil test farm consultants for dry matter and mineral analysis. The samples sent for analysis in 2004 did not provide an accurate picture of the moisture content of the feed in the field since they were analyzed after they had been dried. The results from the 2005 analysis are:

Dry matter 40.1%
Moisture 59.9%

100% Dry Matter basis:
Crude Protein 11.8
ADF 36.5
NDF 57.6
TDN 59.6

Livestock management

Barker Ranch – First Treatment (refer to Table 5):
The goats were started on the Russian olive plots on 6/9/05. The goats started eating the Russian olive from the start and no learning curve was experienced in the second year of the project. Eight cows and calves were put into C2 on 6/11. Due to the amount of forage in the plots, 6 more cows with calves were added on 6/21 in a attempt to keep the cows on the same time line as the goats. In order to make a quick comparison between 2004 and 2005 of the number of days the animals were on the plots, a goat*day and cow*day were calculated. The number was calculated by taking the number of cows or goats on the plots times the number of days they were on the plots.

2004 – 7 cow with calves x 25.75 days = 180.25 cow*days
2005 – 8 cows with calves for 12 days + 14 cows with calves for 24 days = 432 cow*days
Based on this simple comparison, the forage production for the cattle more than doubled from 2004 to 2005 during the first treatment.

2004 – 1089 doe*days and 735 kid*days
2005 -1083 doe*days and 1454.7 kid*days.

Barker Ranch – Second Treatment (refer to Table 6):
Based on general observations, there was less regrowth on the grasses and forbs in 2005 than in 2004, this is reflected in the below calculations.

2004 – 7 cow with 500 lb calves for 17 days = 119 cow*days

2005 – 8 cows without calves for 13 days = 104 cow*days.
To make a true comparison, the 2004 figures need to be adjusted for the fact that the cows were lactating and had calves at their sides. A 1200 lb dry cow is 1.1 animal units, whereas a lactating 1200 lb cow can be as high as 1.75 animal units.

2004 – 119 x 1.75 = 208 standard cow*days
2005 – 104 x 1.1 = 114 standard cow*days

2004 – 874 doe*days and 1089 kid*days
2005 – 940 doe days and 772 kid*days

On 8/12/05, 65 does & 78 kids for a total of 143 were put in plot G1

On 8/16/05, 8 cows without calves were put in plot C2

Based on observation of the does, the following notes were made on body condition: the body condition of lactating does did not change, whereas the body condition of the dry does and yearlings improved. During the first treatment at the Barker Ranch a number of kids were weighed to see how the kids gained through the browsing season. The kids were weighed at birth, on 6/20/05 and on 10/12/05 (only wethers). From birth to 6/20/05 the daily gain for the kids that were twins varied from a low of 0.17 lbs/day to a high of .37 lbs/day with an average of 0.26 lbs/day from a sample of 25 head. For the single kids daily gain varied from 0.2 lbs/day to .45 lbs/day for an average 0.33 lbs/day from a sample of 7 head. From 6/20/05 to 10/12/05 the average daily gain was .087 lbs/day for the 14 wethers sampled. The daily weight gain varied from 0.04 lbs/day to 0.21 lbs/day. Since all of the goats were being used for weed control projects the kids were not separated from the does until they were sold in October. The kids were not creep fed so the variation in weight gain is probably related to how long the doe provided milk during the summer months.

Cows were moved when utilization on the grasses was around 80%. The cattle were observed eating leaves off the Russian olive trees. It appeared to be a minor component of their diet. The cows seemed to be bothered by flies more than the goats.

Due to the location of the Russian olive plots water had to be hauled to the goats and cows. On average the 7 cows and calves utilized 92 gallons of water per day and the 130 head of goats utilized 54 gallons per day.

General Observations: Both the cattle and goats preferred the majority of forbs to the bunch grasses. The only plant that both species seemed to obviously avoid was dog fennel (Eupatorium capillofolium). During the spring trial, the goats developed a taste for the Russian olive after utilizing all easily available ground forage. During the second trial, the goats readily took to the Russian olive. After each grazing application, the goats had created a well defined “browse line” among the Russian olives, eating all foliage, stripping the bark, and breaking limbs up to approximately six feet. At the start of the second trial, among the most notable vegetative regrowth were the Russian olive, bermudagras (Cynodon dactylon), and legumes. Much of the remaining vegetation was dry or dead.

2005 (Amy Hummer)
In early summer, the goats grazed all six pastures in 30 days (June 9-July 8) and the cows in 37 days (June 9-August 28). In late summer, the goats grazed the 6 pastures in 17 days (August 12-28) and the cows in 15 days (August-15-29).

At the commencement of the early summer grazing application, the quantity and type of forbs appeared to be similar to that of the 2004 season. The animals seemed to select first for the same species as the previous season, including all of the forbs and Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon). There appeared to be less vegetative regrowth between early and late summer than in 2004. The vegetation was also much drier than in 2004 and that contributed to a shorter grazing application in late summer.

In early summer, the previous year’s growth remained on the Russian olive trees, dead and dry. The Russian olive had little or no new growth, although buds appeared on the trees toward the end of the summer. Additionally, much of the vegetation surrounding the trees that received the herbicide application was standing, but dead; most likely the result of being inadvertently sprayed. Much of this dead vegetation was tall wheatgrass. The goats quickly recognized and utilized the Russian olive. Again, the cows only nibbled at the trees. The Russian olive in the grazed and untreated pastures appeared to have an equal amount of new leafy growth and looked similar to that of the 2004 season.

Sampling techniques were repeated in the exact same manner as during the 2004 season. Matt Strunk, a WSU graduate student, assisted Amy Hummer in the field for a portion of the summer.

Barker Ranch bulrush sites
Note: After the 2004 annual report had been submitted, Michael Crowder, General Manager of the Barker Ranch reported the following regarding the impact of multi-species grazing on the bulrushes:

As a trained waterfowl biologist and wetland manager, I was thrilled at the prospect of being able to control problem bulrush in areas too wet or too thick for mechanical treatment. The areas that were tested in 2004 were occupied by bulrushes that hadn’t been mechanically manipulated or disturbed in at least five years. However, this area had been consistently heavily grazed by cattle in the summer months to try to knock back the rushes, but with little success. These bulrushes were very thick ‘old growth’ rushes that were up to eight feet tall or more. They were so thick that cattle would not go into the stands of rushes, but would just graze a little around the edges of the stand. The Wanapum Indian Tribe frequently used these stands to cut bulrushes to make their traditional ‘tully mats’ due to the large size of the rushes.

Outstanding results in controlling bulrushes were achieved this year on the Barker Ranch by a combination of grazing with cows, sheep and goats, along with follow-up bulrush stubble mowing with a tractor mower. Cows were first put into the bulrush patches and did as they had done in previous years—just graze along the outside edges of the dense stands of rushes. When most of the standing water was off of the rushes, goats did go into the shallow water and feed on the bulrushes. The goats and sheep would lie in open areas and go into the thicker rushes to feed. It took on average two to three days to get most of the rushes knocked down in a pen before it had to be moved. After the goats were moved to a new pen location, cows would then go back into that area to finish it off.

At that point, there was basically only stubble of the rushes left, and it was dry enough that a tractor mower could get through the stand and mow it completely to the ground. Mowing wasn’t possible in previous years due to the sheer volume of material that the mower had to cut–it just couldn’t spin the blades in rushes that thick. Also, the site was dry enough to allow a tractor over it, most likely due to more sunlight on the ground helping dry it after the canopy of cover was removed. Grazing of the rushes was possible until late summer when they turned brown and the goats wouldn’t eat them anymore due to a lack of palatability. A drawback to goat grazing is that it doesn’t kill the plant and it will come back the next year, but it does open the area up for wildlife species to occupy. With all of the stems coming in next year being new shoots, grazing with cattle will be more successful due to the palatability of the plants and the willingness of cattle to eat the young new shoots. This method of multi-species grazing will not eliminate problem bulrush areas, but will make them manageable and more attractive to a variety of wildlife species.

Goat grazing was not necessary on the bulrush sites grazed in 2004 because the cattle ate the young regrowth. Cattle grazing was followed by tractor mowing.

Barker Ranch bulrush sites (Craig Madsen):
A portion of the goats were put on bulrush sites in 2005. On the sites selected for treatment in 2005 it was harder to control flooding. In June that goats utilized the bulrush quite well on the sites where the water was less than 6 inches deep. The bulrush was either eaten or pushed down. On the areas where the water was deeper, the goats were reluctant to wade out into the deeper water to eat the bulrushes, thus the goats were not effective in opening up the bulrush on the deeper water sites. Also, since the flooding could not be controlled, follow-up treatment with a tractor and mower was not done. When the goats returned to Barker Ranch in August the bulrush site that was treated in June had regrown to 4-5 feet. Since the site was flooded, it was not browsed a second time by the goats. A portion of the site where the goats were placed in August had been disced, and the center of the area was flooded. About 3 acres had to be fenced since the flooded area in the center prevented subdividing the area into smaller plots. The goats ate the bulrush on the areas that had been disced and moved out into the bulrush where the water was 6-12 inches deep. The goats are most effective in opening up bulrush sites where there is no standing water, or at least water depth is less than 6 inches, and the size of the plot is kept to a size that is utilized in 4-5 days. On the smaller plots the utilization is more even and the animals are moved to a new plot sooner, which helps keep the nutrition levels higher.

Sprague Lake (refer to Tables 10 and 11):
The stage of growth of various plants at the Sprague Lake Learning Site was noted on May 28, 2005. Dalmatian toadflax was flowering, diffuse knapweed had bolted and buds were beginning to form–also saw new rosettes coming up, downy brome and Thurbers needlegrass had green seed, the seedhead was emerged on bluebunch wheatgrass and Idaho fescue, Sandberg bluegrass had mature seed, arrowleaf balsamroot was flowering, lupine was flowering. Additional phenology was collected on 5/30/05, Idaho fescue and bluebunch wheatgrass was beginning to flower, Rush skeltonweed was bolting and shrubby phlox was flowering. Goats were also observed utilizing stiff sagebrush.

The second treatment at Sprague Lake began on July 14 (12 days earlier than in 2004). With the earlier treatment, the regrowth on the Dalmatian toadflax was flowering but had not set seed as in 2004. The diffuse knapweed and Rush skeletonweed had regrown but was not flowering. The bluebunch wheatgrass and the Idaho fescue had mature seed.

Sprague Lake–The project planning group decided that the Sprague Lake site was going to be a learning site (i.e., an observational study) rather than an experimental layout like the one at the Barker Ranch. The land located on the shores of Sprague Lake is owned by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. The main target plants at this site are diffuse knapweed, Dalmatian toadflax, rush skeletonweed and annual forbs. The plots have a mixture of native perennial grasses, native forbs, native shrubs, annuals grasses, annual forbs and scattered patches of noxious weeds. The site was grazed with goats and sheep twice in order to prevent seed production on the target plants. For a plot map refer to Figure 6, and for the plot sizes refer to Table 5.

Goats and sheep grazed the site together. The first treatment started on May 28 (refer to Table 6). The annual grass weeds, Bromus tectorum and medusahead, were headed out and the animals did not utilize them. The animals did utilize the annual mustards as well as diffuse knapweed and Dalmatian toadflax. The goats did browse two of the native shrubs, currant and wild rose, with limited use of sagebrush, rigid and Wyoming. The utilization on the annual grasses was low, less than 20%.

The second treatment started on July 26. By that time some of toadflax plants had flowered and formed mature seed (refer to Table 7). The diffuse knapweed had regrown but had not flowered. The Canada thistle in plot 6 was flowering and some had set seed. In plot 4 the rush skeletonweed was flowering and some plants had set seed. There was only limited regrowth on the annual forbs. It appears that the second treatment was 1-2 weeks late. The animals ate the leaves and flowers off the Dalmatian toadflax and diffuse knapweed. The rush skeletonweed received moderate use.

The main reason for the delay in initiating grazing on this site in 2004 was the unanticipated length of time that it took to get a temporary grazing permit from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The plan for next year is to have a grazing permit in place prior to the start of the grazing season.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

We hope to be able to demonstrate a method of managing rangelands that will positively impact the triple bottom line (i.e., environment, ecosystem and society) by reducing input cost, increasing productivity and enhancing the ecosystem. This includes conversion by ruminants of presently undesirable plant material to marketable products and a reduction in the use of herbicides that decreases both cost and potential environmental hazards to humans, wildlife and natural resources.

We hope to be able to demonstrate a biological method (i.e., planned grazing) that will help control the spread of invasive plants (i.e., noxious weeds), enhance biodiversity and increase profit from grazing livestock. This approach will also provide livestock producers with alternative meat and fiber production enterprises to enhance profitability and reduce market risk. An example of one of the existing opportunities is the tremendous undeveloped market potential for goat meat to fill the demand of ethnic groups who eat goat meat as a normal part of their diets.


Skip Stonesifer

[email protected]
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
215 Melody Lane, Rm. 136
Wenatchee, WA 98801
Office Phone: 5096642793
Craig Madsen

[email protected]
Healing Hooves, LLC
P.O. Box 148
Edwall, WA 99008-0148
Office Phone: 5099907132
Michael Crowder

[email protected]
General Manager
Barker Ranch
85305 Snively Rd.
West Richland, WA 99353
Office Phone: 5095213663
Andrea Mann

[email protected]
Big Bend RC & D
2145 Basin St., Suite B
Ephrata, WA 98823-9451
Office Phone: 5097542463
James Dobrowolski

[email protected]
Extension Range Hydrologist
Washington State University
P.O. Box 646410
Pullman, WA 99164-6410
Office Phone: 5093357294
Michael Carpinelli

[email protected]
1041 Mesa Blvd., Suite C
Grants, NM 87020
Office Phone: 5052856963
Amy Hummer

[email protected]
M.S. Graduate Student
WSU/Tri-Cities Campus
1650 Mowry Square #200
Richland, WA 99352
Office Phone: 5095214153