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Cost-effective weed control

By Staff | Dec 31, 2010

Proper stocking rates can be vary by pasture quality. For brush eradication, eight to 12 goats per acre can help clean up a farm.

DES MOINES – Want to sell invasive weeds like multiflora rose and ironweed for up to $500 a ton? Raise meat goats that can do the harvesting, said one grazing specialist.

“Goats love to browse,” said Mark Kennedy, a meat goat producer from Missouri and grazing lands specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, who spoke at a conference in West Des Moines recently. “They’ll eat curly dock, thistles, burdock, Queen Anne’s lace and buckbrush, and they’ll browse the heck out of cedars in the winter.”

While goats aren’t a get-rich-quick scheme, these efficient foragers can offer some profit potential, noted Kennedy, who added that goats can be used in a cattle operation to help control weedy vegetation.

To get started with goats, Kennedy offered the following tips:

  • Fencing. There are a variety of options that can work, from electric fence to woven wire. With woven wire, a wider mesh (6-by-12-inches) is better, since goats can get their heads caught in 6-by-6-inch mesh, Kennedy said.

When using conventional fencing, consider running an electric offset wire 12 to 15 inches from the ground to reduce the risk of animals getting caught in the fence or climbing the fence.

Parasites can be a major challenge with goats, so it’s important to follow a strategic de-worming program.

Kennedy noted that both goats and sheep can be trained to respect electric fence. Seven wires of high-tensile electric fencing around the perimeter of a pasture can also offer a workable fencing solution, said Kennedy, who added that goats can be controlled with three or more strands of high-tensile electric wire for subdivision fencing.

  • Predator control. Since coyotes and other predators view goats as a “fast food restaurant,” it’s important to use effective predator fencing, with guard animals as a backup, Kennedy said.

Guard dogs work best on larger farms, he noted, while llamas and donkeys can help protect goats on smaller operations.

  • Shelter. Goats are less tolerant of wet, cold conditions than sheep or cattle, Kennedy said, so proper shelter from rain and weather extremes is important. Provide enough space, added Kennedy, who recommends 10 to 15 square feet per animal in open housing with pasture.
  • Parasite control. Parasites can be a major challenge with goats, so plan ahead for parasite prevention and control, Kennedy said. “The old advice was that you need to worm every animal every 30 days.

“The problem is that this can build up resistant strains of worms.”

A strategic de-worming program is a better solution, said Kennedy, who recommends using an integrated parasite management system to monitor the degree of infection and use deworming products, as appropriate.

This may be done by monitoring fecal egg counts or by evaluating animals at regular intervals with a FAMACHA chart. Parasite control can also be enhanced with proper grazing management.

“Goats love to browse. They’ll eat curly dock, thistles, burdock, Queen Anne’s lace and buckbrush.” —Mark Kennedy Grazing lands specialist

Watch grazing heights so they’re not less than 4 inches, so goats don’t have to graze too close to the ground and increase their risk of picking up parasite larvae.

In addition, use longer rest periods (more than 40 days) in pastures to help reduce parasite loads. Since cattle and goats don’t share the same parasites, grazing cattle in rotation with goats and sheep can work well, added Kennedy, who recommends using a system with eight paddocks or more.

  • Stocking rates. Lower stocking rates will generally curtail a parasite buildup in the pasture and will benefit the goat herd in other ways, as well, said Kennedy, who noted that proper stocking rates can vary by pasture quality.

Excellent pasture that can support one cow can support six to eight goats, while brushy pasture that can support one cow will support nine to 11 goats. “There’s more goat feed on this type of pasture, since it has more brush and weeds,” said Kennedy, who noted that goats prefer browsing on vegetation like ragweed and lambsquarters instead of consuming grass, although they prefer grass (including tall fescue) to alfalfa.

They also like rough, steep land versus flat, smooth land, added Kennedy, who noted that goats tend to graze the perimeter of a pasture before grazing the center.

“If you want brush eradication, eight to 12 goats per acre can help clean up a farm so you can be in the cattle business, while one to three goats per acre can provide sustainable brush management.”

For more information on raising meat goats, Kennedy recommends the Maryland Small Ruminant Page at www.sheepandgoat.com.

You can contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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