Goats are gaining a newfound respect among cattlemen across Kansas, thanks to their fondness for sericea lespedeza, a noxious weed.
“Goats readily consume sericea,” says Gary Kilgore, agronomist with Kansas State University's Southeast Area Extension Office in Chanute. Goats graze sericea low enough that seed production is minimized and, eventually, tiller numbers are reduced.
Presently, half a million acres of native tall grass prairie in the Kansas Flint Hills are infested with sericea.
Ironically, sericea lespedeza was first introduced as a legume that forage specialists recommended in the 1950s.
“Little did we know it would adapt and become invasive,” says Kilgore. “We've learned that cattle don't eat sericea because it's high in tannins and becomes woody by midsummer.”
It's still an important forage crop in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, though, largely because it tolerates high humidity and poorly drained soils.
“It's their alfalfa,” says Kilgore. Some newer varieties are lower in tannins, and at least one persists under heavy grazing.
Kilgore has researched chemical control of sericea for over a decade. He says the two herbicides available, Remedy and Escort, both work well but can cost up to $15/acre. They need to be applied every three to five years, too.
“Many pastures have spots of sericea and don't require a broadcast spraying,” he says. “Infested areas in trees or along riparian zones are also difficult to spray, so we began looking to goats as an alternative.”
They found that goats and cattle could co-exist in pastures. “Goats usually leave grass alone. They like broadleaf and brushy plants and even eat eastern red cedar,” Kilgore says.
“Although we won't kill all of the sericea with goats, we can reduce seed production and the number of tillers,” he adds.
Goats also offer added income. “Producers have found that the goat market can be profitable,” he says. Goat meat is primarily sold for ethnic markets in the East.
Kilgore offers these guidelines for utilizing goats for sericea control:
They should be grazed from late June through fall or can be left on pastures year-round. On heavily infested pastures, a stocking rate of four goats/acre is recommended; otherwise, one to two goats/acre is sufficient.
“The key is to keep sericea grazed short enough to eliminate seed production, and for goats to gain well,” Kilgore says. Gains of 15 lbs/goat during the grazing season aren't uncommon.
A special 10" woven wire or electric fence is needed. “Fencing is an additional expense, and goats are hard to keep in,” says Kilgore.
Because of internal parasites, goats need to be dewormed regularly and watched for pinkeye and foot rot.
Guard animals (dogs, llamas, donkeys) are recommended.
Goats must be kept on the land long-term to be effective. “Ranchers know it's a long-term investment, but they also realize goats offer added income,” Kilgore says.