Beyond Pesticides, May 10, 2002
This week’s photo story was sent to us by Lani Lamming of Ewe4ic Ecological Services, Inc. in Alpine, WY. Ewe4ic Ecological Services specializes in using cashmere goats to graze and naturally remove noxious weeds and return the land to a healthy, natural ecosystem. Invasive weed species are a problem in certain parts of the country because they often displace valuable forage plants that livestock and wildlife depend on. Some weeds are also toxic to livestock and wildlife, although special enzymes in goats’ saliva quickly detoxify the same plants. Ms. Lamming’s company provides a non-toxic and more effective alternative to using herbicides to eradicate invasive weeds.
Ms. Lamming, who describes herself as a displaced cattle rancher, explains the role of her herd as more than a method of eradicating weeds, but as restoring a healthy ecosystem. “The goal of the land is to build the soil so it can produce the kinds of plants that we want to grow there. What we need to be looking at is the water cycle, mineral cycle, energy flow, and succession. Weeds are symptomatic of a problem. The problem is sometimes poor soil having no organic matter that cannot support good growth. We want to make the grass the best competitor and stress the weed at every turn. Goats help with this problem because everything they eat is then recycled as a fertilizer and laid back down on the grasses. As the goats graze, they trample in the fertilizer.”
Typically farmers, ranchers, and other property owners rid their property of noxious weeds by using herbicides, often Tordon (picloram and 2,4-D) on it, which costs about $100 an acre. Aside from the health problems associated with herbicide use, there are many other problems. First, herbicides not only destroy the target weed but often reduce the number of non-target plant species as well. In addition, herbicides can increase the toxic poisons, including potassium nitrate and cyanide, in some plants. These poisonous chemicals have been demonstrated to be toxic to livestock as well as wildlife, so increasing the levels of these poisons is surely detrimental to the animals that live among these plants. Furthermore, some herbicide-tolerant plants may be physiologically affected by the herbicide. Ms. Lamming recalls seeing land in the West barren of any plant life except the diffuse knapweed the herbicides were intended to kill.
The first thing goats do when they walk through the pasture is snap off all the flower heads. Then they pick the leaves off one at a time, very quickly, leaving a bare stock. Once the goats graze the weed, it cannot go to seed because it has no flower and it cannot photosynthesize to build a root system because it has no leaves. Grasses are their last choice, which means the desirable grass species are left behind with natural fertilizer to repopulate the land.
For more information on invasive weeds, visit Beyond Pesticides’ Ecological Management of Invasive Weeds webpage. To learn more about grazing goats for weed control read Successfully Controlling Noxious Weeds with Goats in the Resouces and Publications section.