Tips on using meat goats to control Eastern Red Cedar

by Steve Melvin, Terry Gompert, Steve Gramlich

LINCOLN, Nebraska: Biological control is the use of natural enemies to reduce weed populations to economically acceptable levels.

In the case of red cedar control, goats can be utilized as an effective bio-control agent for trees that are up to 3 to 4 feet tall. Producer experience in Nebraska would show that most of cedar trees less than 24 inches tall will be killed by goats with paddock grazing. Control will drop off to about 50 percent on trees 4 to 8 feet tall.

Goats are browsers, whose diet consists of about 70 percent non-grassy species, which means they will tend not to compete with cattle for grass. Goats prefer non-grass plants, but will eat grass if that is all that is offered.

They have the added benefit of controlling many of the plants that cattle do not like to eat, including many noxious weeds like leafy spurge. Goats are an excellent cedar control option and also have the potential to make money.

In fact, they can be a profitable livestock enterprise to add to the operation. The idea is to produce meat with the plants that cattle do not like to eat.

Grazing cattle and goats is often referred to as multispecies grazing and is a very effective method of managing the multiple species of plants in our pastures. The correct mixture of cattle and goat grazing can maintain the desired plant mixture.

The long and the short of it is goat grazing tends to make good cattle pastures and cattle grazing tends to make good goat pasture.

The stocking rate of goats needs to be adjusted based on the amount of plant material that the cattle will not eat.

The stocking rates discussed below are for breeding age does. Younger animals will not eat cedar as well and will grow slowly if forced to eat a high percentage of cedar.

Precise stocking rates have not been established by research. A conservative rule of thumb is that one goat can be added per cow to a properly stocked cattle pasture with minimal forbs and woody plants without changing the cattle stocking rate.

As forb and woody plant content increase the goat stocking rate should also increase from one goat per cow to maybe even as high as 100 percent goats in a pasture that is almost all forbs and woody plants.

However, a few cows are an advantage in heavily overgrown areas because they are much better in breaking trails through the brush.

Control is less effective as trees get bigger.

Goats will browse up to 5 to 7 feet on larger trees, killing the branches by defoliation and striping bark from branches and trunks up to three inches in diameter.

High prolonged stock density may even kill bigger trees, but forcing the goats to eat more than 50 percent cedar for an extended period of time is not advisable and will cause poor performance of the stock.

Goats are better at preventing seedlings from becoming established than killing big trees. Goats are one of the best options after burning and/or cutting the established trees that have been producing seed to control the flush of new seedlings that usually start within a year or two.

The grazing strategy with the goats should vary depending on the management goats set for the pasture.

Adding one or two goats per cow and letting the goats and cattle run together is an excellent maintenance strategy for pasture with moderate to low cedar infestation. However, if the goal is to get a quicker response and try to kill denser stands then the methods need to change.

A grazing strategy that is more effective at causing damage to cedar and other woody plants is to fence off a smaller area, with temporary fencing, so the per acre stocking rate would be at least 10 goats/acre. This stocking rate with moderate cedar infestation should result in significant damage to the trees in about 30 days.

Higher stocking rates would be better, but will require moving the fence more often. Trees and other perennial plants have high energy reserves in their root systems and repeated defoliation over a few years is required to kill them.

Cedar trees will not resprout and, if the goats remove most of the needles and/or bard, the tree will die.

Close monitoring of the feed supply and the animals is required for this method to work long term. Forcing the animals to eat too much of the forage will result in poor performance and even death of the animals if it is taken to extremes.

Producing a large, fast-growing kid crop each year should be a high priority. Also, the does need to be in fairly good body condition in the fall and winter to keep warm. Goats that are consuming a high level of cedar, especially in the winter, should be supplemented with protein. Due to the extremely variable conditions found when grazing cedar, an exact protein supplement level is difficult to determine. However, feeding ˝ to 1 lb of good quality alfalfa hay per 125 lb doe per day would be a good place to start.

Fencing options for goats include net wire and electric fences. One electrified offset wire inside of a barbed wire fence has worked well for producers in Nebraska.

Also, two to three strand polywire temporary fence have worked well for making smaller enclosures or paddocks.

It is always recommended to train goats to an electric fence if they are not accustomed to it. This can be done by placing them in a lot that will hold goats and place an electric fence wire around the inside. The training should last about a week.

Two other issues that need to be addressed before getting goats include predator control and learning how to care for a new livestock species. A good place to start is at the ATTRA-National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service web site. The page “Goats: Sustainable Production Overview, Livestock Production Guide” has information on numerous topics relating to meat goat production. Http://

Many ranchers in other parts of the USA have run cattle and goats together for decades. They view goats both as a profitable part of their business and as a very important part of their grazing land management program.

(The authors are all extension educators for the University of Nebraska/Lincoln.)

© by The Stockman Grass Farmer

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