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Noxious Weed Removal Using Goats


Noxious Weed Removal Using Goats in California


Mother Nature created a perfect weed eating machine in goats.  Noxious weeds are extremely aggressive, invasive and difficult to control.   Herbicides have been used with limited success, but repeated use of chemicals is expensive and

environmentally problematic.  In addition, repeated use of chemicals can cause weeds to mutate and actually increase in density and endurance.

Since goats prefer weeds over grasses they will always seek for weeds and consume them first.  Managed goat herds snap off and consume all the flower heads, then pick off the leaves, leaving a bare stock.  Because the flower is eliminated immediately, it cannot go to seed and without leaves it cannot photosynthesize and build a root system.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that goat grazing is a highly effective means of reducing seed head production.  Goats have been used successfully to control Yellow and Purple Star thistles, French, Spanish, and Scotch brooms, European annual grasses and a list of other noxious plants that degrade both plant and animal habitats.

Knowledge of a weed's growth and reproduction cycles is crucial when prescribing a grazing treatment.  Living System's staff understands that precisely timed grazing / browsing of a weed in conjunction with other methods can eliminate the weed's ability to reproduce, kill the weed, and ultimately lead to its eradication in a managed area.


Goats, Sheep, and Thistle

Goats and Sheep provide a practical method for the reduction and mitigation of invasive plants including the extensive list of non -native thistles which degrade habitat and spread prolifically.
What makes the goat and in many cases sheep(depending on the breed) a superbly effective tool in the reduction and elimination of thistle infestation and monocultures, is the ruminant animals ability to both reduce seed production, alter soil chemistry and finally, the ability kill the plant altogether.
First, how does a goat reduce seed production? Grazers target plant seed heads as they contain the highest nutritive value for the animal. If a plant has produced a seed head the goat will find this part of the plant most palatable, and consume it first. Second, How does a goat effect soil chemistry, and why is this advantageous? Through the elimination processes goats alter both soil ph and N, K, P levels. Certain varieties of thistle thrive under certain conditions; for example—Italian Thistle, a resilient invasive annual thistle prefers potassium deficient soils. Understanding the unique/peculiar preferences of invasive/undesirable plants allows insight into intensity and duration of grazing application, as soil dynamics can be changed through animal impact so as to promote specific conditions, favorable or unfavorable to different plants and microorganisms.
Finally, and most essentially, a grazer can kill a plant. The mechanical process of grazing can destroy a plants ability to deliver nutrients to itself, to photosynthesize and can damage a plants ability to derive a store nutrients and water from itself and the soil.
It is because the grazer works on multiple biological and physical levels that grazing is effective. What’s more, is a grazers ability to stimulate desirable ecological conditions such that soil, plant community and hydrological conditions are conducive to balance.

Grazing Technique

Modern Grazing technique employs a different methodology than traditional grazing. What’s more, modern grazing technique employs the holistic model which emphasizes sustainable practice in favor of production based, sustenance practices.
Contemporary grazing techniques are based upon the premise that grazing animals can be utilized as a tool for the maintenance and restoration of lands. Furthermore, modern grazing technique has developed through the application of grazing as a primary means to balance and attend to lands ecologically— different from traditional production based “non’-ecological models which derive mainly from confined system grazing systems which are essentially “non- sustainable” and not economically viable.
There are a variety of techniques graziers can utilize to mange lands sustainable including; bioregion specific grazing timing models, that target specific plants. Additionally, design of enclosures and/or exclosures based upon terrain, vegetation type, and strategic placement of water and supplemental feed, have a considerable effect on animal impact, and are important techniques every grazer should be aware of and utilize.
Similarly, graziers can modify feed supplementation to target certain types of vegetation, can utilize mixed or multi-species grazing to target or focus grazing activity, and can employ a variety of other simple feed supplement based techniques that focus and target grazing activity.
These are examples of some of the techniques involved in modern managed grazing systems. It is important to distinguish modern grazing activity from “traditional pastoral system grazing” , as modern grazing is a more ecologically oriented, precise and effective way to treat lands compared to “traditional system”.
Through the application of these techniques which also include behavioral and psychological animal husbandry techniques, grazing becomes a tenable and effective tool for resource management.


Riparian Managed Grazing

Our primary management concern in a riparian grazing setting is preservation of habitat and mitigation and containment of source and non- point source pollution. Grazing Management in Sensitive habitats, particularly in riparian areas or functional watersheds requires certain additional layers of animal management and planning than areas which are less susceptible or more adapted to animal impact
Managed grazing involves careful and intelligent management of grazing impact.
There are a variety of methods that can be employed that minimize the possibility of ecological damage as a result of riparian and watershed grazing.

Some of the most common and effective methods for managing grazing impact are: larger paddocks for larger herds, coupled with short duration grazing can minimize the buildup of fecal material (which is already negligible with goats and sheep) and allow for a less concentrated distribution of animal waste. Grazing Exclusions-- In areas where animal waste is likely to enter either directly or indirectly into waterways, exclusions, which are fencing subdivisions can be constructed to prevent or further control animal access to certain areas. Grazing Timing; certain seasonal vegetative and weather and climate patterns can mitigate the flow, absorption and distribution of animal waste. Soil temperature, moisture content and climate determine the viability of bacteria colonies. (such as many Fecal Coli forms) Grazing Timing can provide an additional control, inhibiting bacteria from reproducing by providing conditions unfavorable to the bacterial colonies. Adequate vegetative cover can reduce the ground flow of water and capture and collect animal waste. Grazing in certain types of soils, which are not already saturated with water from rain or runoff can ensure rapid and increased absorption of animal waste, improving the delivery and containment of N,P and K .

These techniques are effective under most conditions and allow for the positive effects of grazing without compromising the delicate ecological balance in riparian areas. One important point to consider about managed grazing especially in sensitive ecological areas is that;” traditional confined system grazing” and “managed rotational system grazing” are wholly different and should not be confused. Many people unfamiliar with managed rotational grazing systems, which are appropriate in riparian zones, may have the false ideation that all grazing has the result of feedlot or small farm type grazing operations (confined system, which is inappropriate in riparian areas) . In fact Managed grazing is based on ecological principles that enhance natural systems. Managed grazing involves proper timing, distribution and density of animals (Grazing Allocation), which avoids the possibility of overgrazing, erosion and polluted watersheds.

Erosion is a function of many variables including but not limited to a soils ability to absorb water, vegetative cover, non-vegetative organic cover, flow and distribution of rainfall over soil horizon, slope and many other overarching factors effect or prevent erosive activity. On a fundamental level erosion can occur whenever a system is out of balance. A stable soil system in a riparian area will contain a certain type of vegetation that allows water to move through vegetation quickly and can also sustain itself through periods of heavy rainfall or drought. Native sedges and grasses are common sign of stable watershed function as these plants are primary and functional in riparian corridors. Grasses build and maintain soil structures, increasing a soils ability to absorb and distribute rainfall. Additionally grasses provide protective cover during the rainy season. Sedges filter and stem the flow of water and have similar function to grasses in a watershed.

Through the process of grazing and controlled animal impact, invasive plants such as Himalayan blackberry, French broom, and even our native poison oak can be controlled without the application of herbicide. What’s more, grazing leaves root systems intact providing a layer of stability to soil structure while shifting the ecotone towards more functional vegetation, such as grasses forbs, native plant cover and native trees. Mechanical removal of the aforementioned plants can disturb the soil at various levels. Short term managed grazing opens up the canopy created by opportunistic invasive plants that inhibits grasses and native herbs and forbs from establishing themselves in the riparian zone.

Many riparian areas contained largely non-native vegetation; plants that compete and impede functional and native plants ability to derive nutrients and light from their environment. Managed Grazing helps to reestablish more functional vegetation in watersheds and to mitigate the effects of non-native vegetation.

Grazing these corridors can invigorate the dormant native systems, and will increase the possibility for endemic systems to reestablish themselves. Plants require adequate light, which large stands of broom inhibit. Plants require the right balance of nutrients, broom, poison oak, vinca and Himalayan Blackberry diminish soil quality and directly effect the viability of functional/native riparian vegetation. Grazing produces an instant spike in N,P and K levels, nutrients all derived through the process of grazing invasive plants, which hoard these resources.

Living Systems Land Management, LLC
36034 Highway 33

Coalinga, California 93210