Goats are an alternative method of noxious weed control
that is environmentally friendly and rancher friendly. Here
are some commonly asked questions:
Why use goats to mange weeds? Goats are
browsers—cattle and sheep are grazers. Goats prefer
to eat plants that are at eye level and above, grazers prefer
the natural grasses down low. By allowing the goats to browse
the brush and undergrowth of invasive species, weeds, dead
brush and leaves, the natural grasses can recover.
Goats will eat just about anything, but what's their
favorite food? Weeds, like the knap weeds and yellow
star thistle. Goats eat all poisonous plants, which does not
seem to bother them. They also have great diet specificity
by age and gender. The older males preference for what they
eat first differs from the baby goats, the nannies, and yearlings.
If available, the older males prefer Russian thistle and Russian
olive and elm trees, while the babies’ first choice
is field vine weeds. Goats are hired to eat the following
- Canada thistle
- Cheat grass
- Common tansy
- Common mullein
- Dalmatian toad flax
- Downy brome
- Indian tobacco
- Leafy spurge
- Loco weed
- Musk thistle
- Oxide daisy
- Plumeless thistle
- Poison hemlock
- Purple loostrife
- Scotch thistle
- Spotted Knapweed
- Sweet clover
- Yellow star thistle
Do goats eat grass? They do not like grasses;
it is their last choice and they won't eat it if there are
weeds around. Goats control brush and weeds without disturbing
the existing grass and soil, which make pastures in which
cows graze more beneficial. The goats can be rotated in to
eliminate most of the undesirable vegetation, and then the
cows can come in to graze the grass without having to pick
through as many weeds.
Once the goats eat the weeds, can they go to seed?
No, and here's why. The first thing goats do when they walk
through the pasture is snap off all the flower heads. Then
they pick the leaves off one at a time, very quickly, leaving
a bare stock. Once the goats graze the weed, it cannot go
to seed because it has no flower so it cannot photosynthesize
to build a root system because it doesn't have any leaves.
It is well-documented in research that if you cut the stems
of most weeds with a sharp blade the plant will quickly respond
by making just as many seeds if not more, actually making
plant denser. But because of the way a goat eats, the plant
stopped. It cannot make any seeds or photosynthesize.
What's the problem with pesticides? A lot
of things happen when you spray pesticides. For one, the weeds
can mutate and become deformed. I have seen this happen to
common mullein. On my master’s research plots in Wyoming
there are dead trees as a result of Tordon being sprayed ten
years ago. The spraying also made a pure mono culture of Russian
snapweed across the valley. The plot was then sprayed with
a chemical to kill the Russian knapweed and reseeded with
grasses. Every time a chemical was used to kill the Russian
knapweed, white top, another noxious weed, began to grow there.
For some noxious weeds, chemical sprays are ineffective.
One example is oxide daisy, which has no leaf surface for
chemical to be absorbed. But, goats love it.
Do goats eat Christmas trees? Yes, they
love them. A great way for communities to recycle Christmas
trees is to have people pay a nominal fee to have goats recycle
them. Any money generated could then be used for weed control
in that community the following summer. The goats love Christmas
trees, they clean it up, strip all the bark off. The remaining
tree trunk could be sold to a youth group, to be cut, packaged
and sold as firewood. So the recycling keeps going on and
on through all levels insects, birds, people and different
groups of people.
How do you manage so many goats? When you
are managing a 1,000 head of goats, you have to be able to
handle them. We manage the goats by herding them within electric
fences. Once the goats accept the fence as its boundary, it
is magical stuff. Guard dogs are also key to a successful
operation. Our dogs protect the goats from predators, such
as coyotes and feral dogs.