Golden Girls Prescribed Grazing

Photo of goats in kudzu-covered field

We love kudzu!

Our girls, the ewes and does, have a new job! Prescribed Grazing.

What is Prescribed Grazing?

Also known as “targeted grazing,” prescribed grazing is the practice of using ruminants (sheep, goats, even cows) as an effective and environmentally sound method of weed control and land management.

Strategic, small ruminant grazing is often more effective than mowing, burning or herbicides. Fire departments use prescribed grazing to create and maintain firebreaks where controlled burns would be too hazardous. Cities, counties and park departments use prescribed grazing to recover and maintain green belts, or manage natural woods for habitat. Private landowners can use this method as well. Many of the plants we consider to be weeds have some level of nutrition for livestock. Goats, sheep and cows can even be trained to graze on plants not previously in their repertoire.

Targeted grazing is especially useful when weeds have taken over in hard to reach places such as

  • orchards and vineyards
  • in tree plantations for fire suppression
  • on sharp inclines
  • along fence lines
  • in debris piles and hidden obstacles

All the ruminants aerate and naturally fertilize the soil as they graze.

Controlling Kudzu

Here in the southeast U.S., over seven million acres are covered with a versatile, but aggressive plant called kudzu. Rich in nutrients for livestock and for soil, this Asian-native was once promoted and encouraged to grow here in the United States. It’s not as profitable to use as was once believed, though, and now it is taking over. It covers fences, buildings, even other trees, starving whole forests of light and nutrients. Growing as fast as one foot per day, some southerners joke that they close their windows at night so the kudzu won’t come in. Learn more about kudzu at The Amazing Story of Kudzu, a website based on the research done for a public television documentary.

One of the reasons kudzu turned out to be not-so-profitable is that the rubber-like, well-anchored vines are hard to mow and bale. This also makes it hard to control. You have to remove the leaves and kill all the well-protected root nodules or it will grow again. Herbicides are found to be largely ineffective, or so toxic that they kill everything else around. The only really effective way to get rid of it is by intensive grazing, or a combination of grazing and mowing, sometimes over several seasons. Take a look at what our sheep did in just two weeks!

Photo of Kudzu patch - before |

Kudzu patch - before

Photo of Kudzu-after |

Kudzu patch - after

 

Here in north Florida, we are familiar with several other weeds which are also well-suited to prescribed grazing by our sheep and goats. These include

  • Blackberries
  • Poison Ivy
  • Mimosa (goats eat the bark and all which kills the tree)
  • Lespedeza (another vine from the pea family which is also a natural de-wormer)

Typical Weed Control Program

Site assessment is best be done in the Fall, after the rains and before the first freeze, and reservations are often made several months in advance. We’ll come out to your location to determine a number of factors:

  • the type of browse involved, which means the various plant species and their accessibility,
  • the acreage,
  • the distance from our farm and,
  • your ability and commitment to monitor and care for the animals.

We will use this information to develop an effective weed control strategy for your situation. Fall is an excellent time to start since grazing will expose the roots to freezing, winter temperatures. By scheduling additional grazing in early Spring, new growth will have a difficult time becoming established.

In the photo below, Fred is cutting up kudzu roots exposed by a recent targeted grazing. This further stresses the plant and makes it more difficult for it to survive the winter. This photo also shows what our sheep can do to kudzu in just a few days. Compare the foreground kudzu patch to the background.

Fred clipping Kudzu vines

Fred clipping Kudzu vines

Once we agree on a strategy, mobilization involves transporting the animals in an appropriate sized trailer to your location. We supply and set up solar-powered, electric fence, water troughs and shelters. After a few days or weeks, we return and move the restricted areas to a new location. For goats especially, they need plenty of browse to stay happy in their contained areas. Monitoring the amount of forage they have is one of the things we will rely on you to do to keep the cost down.

Sheep are designed to forage on grass and are generally used in open, fenced pastures. Goats, on the other hand, love to climb and play, and are very well suited to clear up forested and hilly areas, and even structures and debris piles. Their stomachs are made for woody and weedy plant material.

We only use the adult females for this job, hence the name, “Golden Girls.” Our goats are mostly Tennessee Fainting Goats, the most well-mannered of breeds and the sheep are Katahdin sheep. You’ll find that having these calm and peaceful creatures around is an enjoyable experience, and that using this time-honored, natural and sustainable practice can make you feel proud.

Contact us today to discuss the possibility of prescribed grazing on your property.

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