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Sustainable Agriculture

Sheep, Goats Manage Rangeland Weeds in Multi-Species Systems

Adding livestock like sheep and goats to rangeland can help ranchers manage noxious weeds and reduce the fuel that can prompt out-of-control Western fires, two crucial goals that were the focus of a SARE professional development project based in Washington. Project leader Don Nelson introduced new grazing concepts, from holistic management to multi-species grazing, to some 30 agricultural professionals and ranchers from Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and California. His series of workshops resulted in at least five new range enterprises featuring diverse herds and flocks to control unwanted vegetation. “Most ‘noxious’ weeds are not the problem—they’re a symptom of how the land has been managed,” Nelson said. Cattle like to graze on grass, but sheep also dine on forbs and goats prefer woody “browse” material. “If you know these preferences, you can inventory a site and create a future landscape using them as tools,” he said.

Introducing new livestock species provides a lower cost, potentially more effective strategy than spraying herbicides, he said. Another benefit is the market potential, as goat meat is a staple of some segments of America’s culturally diverse population. After the training, one of the participants teamed up with a nearby rancher to introduce sheep and goats to reduce knapweed and potentially hazardous undergrowth on a property in Dallesport, Wash. Marty Hudson, coordinator of a Washington weed control board, contracted with rancher Max Fernandez to run sheep, lambs, and goats on property designated as an industrial park. Grazing about 20 acres per day, the flocks cleaned about 600 acres. To manage the site, which is sandy and exposed to wind, Hudson used the land monitoring system he learned in Nelson’s training to not overgraze the property.

Other SARE projects have evolved from the professional development workshops, including grazing goats in a tree plantation to reduce unwanted “understory” vegetation in Clearwater County, Idaho; and introducing goats and sheep to slow the invasive Russian Olive tree on a West Richland, Wash., ranch.

Some of the goat producers with whom Nelson has worked have found new markets through California wholesalers. “There’s an untapped market potential,” Nelson said.


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