Goats said to provide biological fire for brush and noxious weed control
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico: “In nature everything above the ocean burns,” explained Sara Harris to attenders of the Quivera Coalition’s 2005 Annual Meeting. “The way you control big catastrophic fires is to allow lots of small ones.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t done this for many decades and as a consequence we now have too big a fuel load buildup to allow small, safe, controlled burns.
“My company offers a safe alternative to fire in control grazed meat goats.”
The increased building of homes in woodlands has tremendously increased the liability and risk of controlled burning.
“Fire scares people. Goats don’t.”
Harris described control grazed goats as “biological fire.”
For seven years her company, Western Weed Eaters, has been reducing fire fuel loads and eliminating noxious weeds with the contract grazing of meat goats throughout the Western United States.
“Goats quickly create mosaics in solid brush stands so that fire can’t travel quickly,” she said.
Harris and her husband Jay move their band of 750 goats to various contracted grazing spots all year.
The goats are of both Spanish and Boer breeding.
The goats are controlled with temporary electric fences which they have found to be far more effective than herd dogs.
“All goats have attention deficit disease. Electric fences get their attention,” she said.
Urban clients who are often afraid of cattle find goats fascinating to watch and are not offended by the tiny manure pellets which she calls “goat beans.”
“If we are a little late getting to a client area, the residents soon start calling their politicians asking where ‘their’ goats are.”
Because goats purposely select seedheads, they greatly reduce the seed bank of noxious weeds.
“In one year of goat grazing, I can shift a pasture from 90% Canadian thistle to 90% grass,” she said.
By frequent defoliation of brush, including salt cedar, they weaken the tap root enough that the plant eventually no longer has enough energy reserve to send up new shoots. “Russian olive, a major forest invader, is premiere winter goat feed.”
She said goats preferred that browse make up at least 80% of their diet.
“Goats won’t eat grass unless they are forced to.”
She said that when goats are being forced to clean up brush or noxious plants they must be supplemented with protein. This protein helps dilute the natural toxins in the plants.
“Under un-controlled grazing, they do this by eating only a little of each type of plant.
“If you force them to eat a lot of any one plant, you have to supplement them or they quickly lose weight.”
© by The Stockman Grass Farmer
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