How goats are the natural choice for weeds
There’s a reason weeds survive and thrive in the West.
They have adapted well to dry, arid soil, and over time have become more resistant to herbicides. Also, herbicides like Roundup are being shown to cause cancer.
Goats, however, are nature’s way of helping to control invasive and noxious weeds. Presented at the proper time in your land’s weed cycle, goats can begin to stress the weeds to the point where the weeds don’t survive, and native plants are able to begin their return.
LOVE AT first bite
Goats prefer weeds and brush over grass
What are Weeds?
Aggressive plants that spread into landscapes and take over native plants
A plant designated by law as undesirable and requiring control
Knapweed (Russian and Spotted)
Pigweed (Field bindweed)
What about the seed heads that goats eat?
Well, goats have small mouths and the way that they chew, with a scissor-like motion, destroys much of the seeds that are ingested. Plus, goats have four stomach chambers that destroy what's left of any seeds.
Over time, using goats to control weeds gives your native grasses a chance to return to the landscape.
At Ranger Springs Ranch in Bigfork, Montana Highway 35 runs adjacent to one of the pastures. Inevitably, knapweed saw this dry, roadside soil as a perfect place to set up shop, and it did — in a big way.
But by grazing the 20 acre plot over two months, the goats destroyed the knapweed, and now the owner is able to plant native grasses to get this pasture back into productive grassland for cattle and horses.
According to the USDA, seven rare plant species were eliminated in just three years in Glacier National Park, and in some places there has been a 97 percent reduction in available elk forage on land that Spotted Knapweed has invaded.
According to the USDA, when knapweed is left to run unchecked it can create large increases in water runoff and soil erosion.
Goats love to browse the landscape, eating selectively, while cattle and sheep are grazers. Perhaps due to predator adaptation, goats prefer to eat plants that are at eye level and above. Cattle and sheep prefer the natural grasses down low. Our experience is that the goats, given the choice, will eat weeds and brush before going after the good grass down below. Goats are excellent at removing undergrowth and brush, which opens up the canopy to allow more sun to reach the natural grasses.
Goats can be used throughout your landscape to eliminate much of the brushy vegetation and weeds, allowing your cattle or horses to then graze the grass that has been exposed underneath.We’ve seen how goats will eat a Christmas tree left in the pasture before eating the grass.
Goats, being very selective browsers, approach a pasture this way: They eat the seed heads first, if there are any. Then they eat the exposed leaves of the weed, leaving a bare stock. This stock is unable to photosynthesize and go to seed, eventually dying. (This was the result at the Ranger Springs roadside pasture.)
Goats can be used to eat these weeds:
Dalmatian Toad Flax
Yellow Star Thistle
Spraying is simply ineffective on some plant species and spraying herbicides can lead to to more herbicide-resistant weed species.
REVEGETATION — an important part of your plan
Once weeds are attached and reduced by using goats, you need to find the right plants fill the space. Often times when you create a soil disturbance (which goats do not do), other weeds can enter the landscape in and take over, such as cheatgrass.
By learning what plants might grow and compete well with your target Montana invasive weeds, you can create an environment that prevents invasive weeds from getting established on your property.
The best way to prevent weeds is to increase competition to the invasive weeds by using healthy native plants.
Montana Goat Company works with local extension offices, colleges, weed districts and native plant suppliers to find the right revegetation solution for your property.
Canada Thistle in a former cattle corral. Goats love to eat thistle, which is a relative of the artichoke. (photo by Montana Goat Co.)