By Tim Kalinowski
The Western Canadian Goat and Grazing Association is looking to expand its membership and forge good relations with other livestock producers to create healthier rangelands going forward.
“We want to help people who have problems with unwanted vegetation on their farm, ranch, rangeland,” says Lee Sexton, president of the WCGGA. “I think there is a real need for that; especially with multi-species being involved.”
The multi-species model Sexton and WCGGA champion is one where cattle producers work closely with goat and sheep targeted grazers to ensure rangelands stay healthy and invasives like leafy spurge, which cows won’t eat, are managed alongside other grasses and forbs.
“We want to spread the ideas behind multi-species grazing,” Sexton states. “People talk multi-species sometimes, but they don’t really understand it. The property where I am working at right now, we are doing some brush control but we are mainly working with leafy spurge; that’s the main target.
“Normally, the rule of thumb is you go with one small ruminant for every cow that’s on the ranch. This one here, I’m thinking we would have no problem putting three goats per cow, maybe four goats per cow, for the next six to seven years until we get some form of control. There’s that much leafy spurge— but each property is different.”
Sexton says while his industry has started to make inroads with rangeland owners and managers, there is still some common misconceptions out there amongst ranchers that targeted grazing will affect the feed situation negatively for their cows.
“I hear of some partnerships forming where some ranchers are starting to buy in,” he says, “and letting the herder look after the animals the rest of the year; as long as he comes and works for them for the summer. There has got to be some trade-offs happening there and agreements, but there are more agreements being started— that’s the main thing.”
A lot of ranchers also feel overwhelmed by their leafy spurge and other invasive species problems, and are reluctant to spend money to even begin to tackle it, says Sexton.
“People don’t want to admit they have the problem,” Sexton explains. “There is a lot more out there than people realize, and not just leafy spurge, but other invasives as well.
“I see these invasives and I try to explain to them that it’s not a problem— I see opportunities for small ruminants. I see food to grow a small ruminant business, to bring people in to do it and to form partnerships. I think it is a great source of food we can act on, and haven’t acted on. We have been shunning it.”
Sexton says spraying as many acres as is needed out there right now to deal with plants like leafy spurge is not really a viable option for landowners.
“I guarantee you can’t spray your way out of a spurge problem if you have had it for any length of time,” he states. “The only way to effectively tackle it is to invest in small ruminants. Think about it this way: You are doubling up your protein on your land by having them.
“Plants like spurge are a great source for goat feed, and sheep too to some degree, and they don’t drought out.”
Currently a lot of targeted grazers get much of their work in cities and from other municipalities, says Sexton, but he feels growth for the industry, long-term, is going to be in rangelands and Crown lands.
“We have more pasture and rangeland, and government lands, then we do anything else,” he states, “and that’s where I feel we need to be for greatest growth. It’s great to be in the city. There is a lot of publicity and your in the limelight, but your very limited to the acres you would be covering.”