Sustainable Use of Goats as a Vegetation Management Tool

E. Nelson Escobar

Langston University

Langston, Oklahoma

In this paper, the use of goats as a sustainable vegetation management tool will be discussed using data from four demonstration trials. Since 1990, Langston University has implemented a series of demonstration projects to evaluate the use of goats in managing unwanted vegetation. At the invitation of several federal agencies such as the Forest Service, goat specialists have planned and conducted several demonstration trials taking into account the invading species, land topography, weather and experimental site. Considering these factors helped in determining the number of goats per acre that are necessary for effective vegetation management.

As the general public and the academic community become aware of the adverse effects that inappropriate herbicide use represents, there is more demand for information about alternative methods for management of unwanted vegetation. With adequate management, goats will utilize unwanted vegetation for production and at the same time the vegetation will be maintained at a desired density.

The demonstration projects are intricate because there are uncontrollable factors and unpredictable incidents. Also, researchers are not encouraged to conduct this kind of project because of their complexity and limited opportunities of publication to date.

The main objective of the projects is to find a balance between vegetation management and goat production. Goats are efficient in controlling invasive vegetation, opening the coverture and allowing growth of grasses and other plants. In the first example, 51 Alpine and/or Angora goats were used for three years at the Ouachita National Forest (Jesseville, Arkansas) in new pine plantations.

The objective, in this case, was to remove hardwood species which competed with the pine seedlings for sunlight and nutrients. The percentage average cover of the hardwoods was 4 %, 1% and 4% for goats, herbicide and control, respectively at the end of the first year; 8%, 3% and 12% at the end of the second year and 17%, 9% and 24% at the end of the third year. The goats (average initial weight 27 to 52 kg) increased body weight by 4% to 11% of initial body weight during the demonstration period. In the second example, goats were used in the Blue Ridge Mountains (NC and TN). Several species of wild plants invaded and threatened the trails used by hikers and tourists. The use of herbicides was not favorable due to the constant presence of people and wildlife. Machinery was ineffective because of the mountainous terrain. Eighty goats were transported to manage wild cherry (Prounus serotina) and wild blackberries (Rubus sp.) which invade as dense thorny vines. Preliminary observations indicated a high control percentage of Prunus serotina and Rubus sp. The plants have disappeared from trails and paths permitting the free transit of hikers. Botanic inventories will be taken in the Summer of 1996. The third example, the use of goats on the slope dam which is the water reservoir for the city of Guthrie, Oklahoma. For two consecutive years, goats have ben used to maintain the dam at Liberty Lake free of shrubs and small trees, mainly black locus (Robinia pseudoacacia).

The growing shrubs did not allow regular inspections and tended to weaken the dam. In the last example, goats were used to manage shinnery oak (Quercus havardii) in Cheyene, Oklahoma. Goat grazing for three years at the Black Kettle National Grassland, increased native grass frequency from 5% to 50%. Soil samples also revealed an increase in soil nutrients (N,P and K) from 1, 5 and 120 to 21, 23 and 314 kg/Ha, respectively. In conclusion, different types and species of invading and unwanted vegetation can be managed using goats, thus permitting a rational and sustainable use of land and other resources.

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