Extension Viewpoints: Goat grazing for weed suppression demonstration planned

By Pratyoosh Kashyap
SUN Columnist

The unwanted plants that grow on land, be it pastures, farmland, rangeland or roadsides, reduce the overall productivity of land by competing with the desired vegetation for light, water and nutrients. Such weed growth and unwanted trees and shrubs on land interfere with crop and livestock production and can also prevent desired vegetative growth. 

Naturally, we all become stakeholders in one way or another in identifying and managing the commonly found noxious weeds in the region. Managing these invasive and unwanted plants will contribute directly toward improving grazing conditions, crop productivity and restoring desired vegetative cover, thereby reducing soil erosion, improving water quality, reducing the risk of wildfires and helping to restore local wildlife habitat.

The most common and widely used method of dealing with such invasive plants has been the use of herbicides and pesticides at various stages of the plant to restrict their growth and spread. But this could potentially have undesirable environmental effects. Mechanical devices and methods are also often considered an option, but may not be viable for most land spaces requiring weed management.

Biological control methods for the same is a relatively uncommon alternative to weed management. It could work as the sole method or be carried out in a complementary manner with the above-mentioned methods. Having goats on such lands to simply eat weeds is one such method. Goats are browsers and not grazers and will eat weeds which other livestock would not and clear shrubs where they need to be removed to restore desired plants. Goats require a variety in their diet and are inquisitive animals when it comes to eating. Along with a lot of other available plants, they would also willingly eat away weeds in the plot of land they are kept in to clear.

The goats will eat commonly found noxious weeds like the Canada thistle, musk thistle, oxeye daisy, yellow toadflax, kochia and leafy spurge. As the group of goats browse around the land, they pull down flower heads, eat the leaves off the weed plant and damage as well as eat some of the stem. This eventually weakens the plant and its root system, thus preventing it from spreading and growing as fiercely in the following season. Following up on this effort the following year with further grazing and possibly accompanied with strategic spraying, these invasive plants can be controlled to a large extent.

A team at Archuleta County Extension has been working on assessing this very process of weed management with the help of goats. They will be setting up a demonstration at the Natural Resources Conservation Service office, 505A County Road 600 (Piedra Road), on July 24 (Friday) and 25 (Saturday) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to talk to the community about this method and the progress on the ongoing project. Drop by to talk weeds while watching goats devour some weeds.

This story was posted on July 24, 2020.