Brush & Weed Control Project

by Sandy Larocque
 
This project was started in February, 2003 with the Manitoba Government (SDIF) and the Manitoba Goat Association.
 
Our members were very anxious to see this project started as the industry is always looking for ways and means of sustainability and environmental benefits to raising these animals.
 
The land was donated by a cattle farmer just South of Pine River, Manitoba. The 20 acres that were used for this project was harvested by Louisiana Pacific two years ago and has remained totally unusable by the land owner. He could not put his cattle on this land because, first of all, it was too dangerous. The land was completely littered with branches, tree limbs, etc. Secondly because of all this debris, the grass and vegetation for cattle feed was not growing. This was an ideal piece of land for this project, as the weeds had taken over and the brush was certainly advancing into the pasture as there had been no animals on the land to even keep it to a minimum.
 
Existing methods of controlling regrowth would have been
  1. Aerial application of herbicides
  2. Mowing, however not applicable here because of the debris
  3. Complete mechanical removal
 
The disadvantages were first of all the cost. Either the aerial spraying or the mechanical removal would have been very cost prohibitive. And also, all of the existing forage would have been lost in either of these methods.
 
Because woody biomass can be used productively by goats, this was the ideal situation. The goats, because of their capacity for consuming browse were an excellent agent for this project.
 
The area, 20 acres, was completely fenced with electric mesh fencing. The fence was powered by electric fencers, solar panels and batteries. The goats were protected from predators by donkeys and llamas.
 
Some of the vegetation found on the property were: Blunt-Leaved Sandwort, Canada Anemone, Choke Cherry, High-Bush Cranberry, Northern Bedstraw, Peavine, Cream Colored Vetchling, Red-Osier Dogwood, Saskatoon, Stinging Nettle, Trembling Aspen, Veiny Meadow Rue, Wild Gooseberry, Northern Gooseberry, Wild Strawberry, Wild Vetch, and American Vetch.
 
The major objectives of this project were to effectively control the unwanted vegetation and brush encroachment from a pasture while providing the goats and their offspring with enough nourishment that they would thrive and gain weight. We wanted the project to confirm that marginal land that was unusable by other livestock, could be utilized by goats to not only improve the pasture but put weight on the offspring so that the goat breeder receives the profit from their gain.
 
In the 20 acre pasture, we set up a holding pen with shelters. In the holding pen we had access to water, salt and mineral blocks. We had 60 does with their kids at foot on the pasture project. The goats were all dewormed and deloused when they entered the pasture on June 12, 2003. They were also weighed and then released. The llamas and donkeys took no time at all to familiarize themselves with the goats and soon after were found always to be close to them although not in amongst the goats. It was found that the llama guarded the perimeter of the pasture, constantly walking the fence line, while the donkey was in the interior of the pasture more.
 
 
Results
 
It was found that the goats did an excellent job of controlling the weeds and the brush encroachment. They completely eliminated any sign of a weed in the complete 20 acres as well as consumed all the leaves and much of the bark on the trees. The land owner was very pleased to see that, as these trees will probably die and there will be more pasture for forage growth. The brush encroachment was completely eaten and it was very impressive to actually see what the goats accomplished on the piece of land.
 
The goats also did very well. We had 2 losses. A small doe kid died two days after being put on the pasture, from pneumonia and a doeling was found dead along the fence line. No apparent reason for death. The does did not gain weight and in fact, in most cases lost condition but as they were feeding kids all summer, this was understandable. The kids gained weight and the rate of gain was very satisfactory.
 
This project was considered highly successful. The land owner, himself, has now purchased several goats and in the future plans on having them forage with his cattle. The goats consuming the weeds and brush and the cattle consuming the forage.
 
We had 2 Open Houses at the Project Site and both of them were very well attended and had favorable responses from the attendees.