If sericea has your goat, then consider getting some goats, says Brian Faris, small ruminant specialist with Kansas State University (KSU).
Sericea lespedeza is an invasive plant that has moved into many pastures in many states. It’s an aggressive competitor and can grow virtually everywhere, allowing it to dominate the plant community in a pasture by overtaking the canopy and blocking sunlight from shorter grasses and plants.
While cattle will eat sericea, they don’t eat much because of its high tannin content. However, according to Faris, goats love the stuff and often prefer it to other browse plants in a pasture. In fact, in some pastures in North Carolina, where he worked before moving to KSU, he observed that goats essentially eliminated sericea from pastures because they grazed it so hard.
Adding a second animal to your grazing program can complicate the production process, especially for ranchers who are traditionally cattle-only producers, he says. However, there are some real advantages by working with multi-species grazing. One is the increased carrying capacity per acre, because goats and cattle eat different things. The other is the advantage it provides the plant community.
“We’re going to make the plants better,” he says. “And we’re going to allow for suppression of undesirable species. We can increase individual animal performance. Believe it or not, you can put cattle and goats together and you can increase gains on both sides of the coin.”
Faris says if you have a sericea problem and want to try goats as a control, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to get into the goat business. If your neighbors raise goats, it may be as simple as working out a pasture lease arrangement that benefits both of you.
The three main considerations when adding goats to your operation are fencing, predation and animal health, he says. Fencing is far and away the most expensive challenge.
“Has anybody ever tried to keep a goat in a fence? Goats can be a challenge,” he says. “Barbed wire, especially a lot of the fences I’ve seen, are probably not going to (keep goats confined) very well. So we have to be sure we have adequate fencing.”
Predation is an ongoing problem, and may mean you have to add guardian dogs, llamas or donkeys into the mix to keep the coyotes at bay. Parasites are also an issue with small ruminants.
Another question, one that research will have to answer, has to do with stocking density. “We don’t know exactly how many goats it takes to manage sericea,” Faris says. He’s planning a study to look at that. In the meantime, he refers to other data that indicate that when stocked heavily, (6-8/acre), goats can reduce sericea populations by 25% in the first year and virtually eliminate it by the third year.
“At 6-8 goats/acre, we’re talking a lot of goats. So it may not be we can stock it heavily enough. But once you get a handle on it, you can go with a goat/two acres. That’s in theory what we think is best.”
And goats can add to the cash flow and profit of an operation. Goat meat is the most widely consumed meat worldwide; given the growing ethnic population in the U.S., there can be year-round demand for goat meat, he says. “We cannot produce enough goats right now to meet the demand.”
A number of websites provide information on this invasive plant species. For more information, start with these: