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Yearlings work almost as well as goats

River bottoms, wet areas, and shrub habitats become jungles when left too long undisturbed. This is a good thing if you love jungles. However, I find it eye pleasing and nice to walk upright among the trees and shrubs instead of down on my hands and knees, ripping clothes and scratching my face as I crawl through dense brush just to take a look at some running water or find a stray animal.

Yes! Yes! I know we need fully functioning riparian areas that hold stream banks in place during high water events. What I’m trying to say, most people do find an open park like savanna more productive and better looking than a forbearing, dark, thick tangle of vegetation. I’m here to say you can have both.

This summer, I observed a herd of 500 weed, brush, tree and grass eating goats, in a very controlled manner clean up one of these dense jungles. The goat owners used portable electric plastic net fence to create small temporary pastures and bed grounds. These fences were left in place for just a few days and then moved. Depending on a predetermined landscape description, the herders could control how long the goats grazed any particular area.

If you wanted to take out some small trees, you just stay longer. The goats are capable of climbing trees and girdling the tree bark. If you want to leave a bunch of bank holding vegetation you just fence the goats off that area. This is somewhat labor-intensive, yet the goats need to be watched, controlled and kept safe. This herd of easy to catch dinners for some hungry predators had an effective guard dog with them at all the time.

The goats I observed were grazed in a pre-planned manner in very small areas for just a few days. I measured the re-growth of the grass and found the wet bottom sedge and grass plants popped back in just a few days with three to five inches of new growth. Most wet areas have the ability to grow grass fast.

As for the quaking aspen, willows, cottonweed, dog wood, chock cherry, currents, and rose bushes, they were stripped of their leaves and some stems were bitten off, but again they immediately started new growth. I think that this is something more producers should consider. Brush control using their animals that improves the land and reduces fire danger.

Besides keeping wet areas healthy with carefully planned and limited pruning, you are us ing a renewable resource to put food on the table and clothes on the back for some in need families.

Now most of you are thinking “where in the heck do I find a herd of goats?” This is where this observation gets very interesting. It just so happened that near the same area treated by the goats, was a mob of yearling cattle piled into these jungle areas. I estimated a stock density of the yearlings around 400 animals per acre. That’s like 320,000 pound of animals per acre.

I just sat there with my camera in hand and watched the yearlings for a while. They were stacked between the big trees, wall to wall grazing and milling around in the brush. Several would reach far above their heads and eat tree leaves and small stems. The hoof traffic was the real tool that knocked down the tangle of vegetation. After they left the area it looked more like a park than a jungle. These areas are usually wet and immediately start growing again.

What I’m trying to describe here, is a happy medium between preservation environmentalist and ranchers. And as for me, a guy who loves healthy grass, I also know that all this trampling down of the vegetation is also feeding the soils. It’s simply a way of speeding up the mineral and nutrient cycling plus making an often over-looked resource more productive. We can now enjoy our hike looking for that great fishing hole.

Wayne Burleson is a land management consultant working out of Absarokee, Montana. You can visit with Wayne at 406-328-6808 or E-mail him at [email protected]Wayne has an educational web site at http://www.pasturemanagement.com.

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