Turn Your Weeds into Cashmere
By: Sarah Downs, WHS student.
As you look across
a wide-open range, you see a variety of colors. You see some spots
of purple, some of a green-yellow color, and some patches of such a variety
of colors you couldn't name them all. As you get closer you see that
the purple and green-yellow colors belong to weeds, not ordinary weeds,
but noxious weeds that are pushing those radiant patches of indescribable
color right out of the country. Some people use herbicides to get
rid of them. Some people use insects. Some people use...goats?!
Tom and Ann Dooling, of Dillon, Montana, have learned that goats are probably
one of the most efficient methods to get rid of your weeds and to make
a little cash on the side, also. (1) After talking to them, I am convinced
that they are on to something.
I would like to give you some insight into:
1) how goats get rid of weeds, 2) the advantages of goats, 3) the disadvantages
of goats, and 4) the three most useful products of goats.
According to Ann, the only way that you can
kill a weed without using herbicide is to use three tactics. (1) First,
you have to prevent the weed from flowering. Second, somehow you
have to prevent the weed from producing seed heads or seeds. Third,
you have to cut off the plant's intake of carbohydrates. (1) Just
like everything else, if the weed can't get food, it will die.
The way that the goats do this is that they
strip the plant of leaves and flowers. Then, all that is left is
a stem, and stems don't photosynthesize. (3) After the goats have
eaten down an area, as much as is appropriate without wearing out the range,
the goats are moved. After a while, the goats are finally back in
the first place and if the weed has rejuvenated at all, the goats re-strip
the plant. This happens until the weeds die.
Some people might wonder, wouldn't the goats
eat everything, including the range grasses? Well, goats are browsers.
Unlike horses and cows, which are obligate grazers (meaning that they only
eat grasses), goats nibble here and there. They nibble on shrubs,
weeds, and even trees instead of the range grasses. Goats are even
better than sheep, because even though sheep do browse somewhat, they still
graze. The fact that goats don't graze means that later on, other
animals, like cows or sheep, can be run through the area and it still makes
good grazing ground. (1)
According to Nina Baucus, who runs the Sieben
Ranch with John Baucus, "One of the biggest problems with the goats is
predators." (2) Nina and John Baucus lease about 3,200 goats from the Doolings
in an experiment to control the weeds and conifer encroachment on their
ranch range lands. (2) She says that so far, since last June, there have
been 100 to 150 goats killed. (2) On the ranch, the most common predators
are coyotes and mountain lions. (2) When I asked Ann about using donkeys
or lamas, she said that she had tried them both, but the goats just travel
over too much of an area, even in just a day, to really allow any "care-takers"
to be profitable. (1)
Another thing that Nina says has been a pretty
big problem is the lack of fences on the ranch. (2) The Sieben Ranch is
huge. Roughly, it encompasses around 100,000 acres. (3) They raise
cattle and sheep on the ranch. The few fences are enough for the
cattle, and the sheep are with sheepherders. (2) The goats don't have anyone
to watch over them as they try to tackle their first winter on the range.
Because of this, the goats can pretty much wander almost anywhere that
they want to. This means that the goats are able to get places, even
where they aren't wanted. (2)
The three most useful products from the approximately
4,000 goats that Ann and Thomas Dooling raise are the goat's ability to
be useful for weed control, the goat meat, and the cashmere that the goats
produce. (1) With the three combined, the Doolings are making quite a profit.
Goat meat is the most profitable thing that
Tom and Ann's cashmere goats have going for them. (1d) Each doe has two
kids a year. At 3-4 weeks, the kids are weaned. If both of
the kids are bucks, both will be sold. For one carcass, the buyer
that Tom and Ann sell to will pay about 60 dollars. So, not counting
the income from the fleece and counting the cost of hay, which averages
about 15.75 cents per day, for four months out of the year, each doe brings
in about 120 dollars per year. (1) Also, sometimes the does have triplets
and sometimes even quadruplets. (1d) If you average this in, it is quite
Goat meat right now has a better market than
both lamb and cattle meat, especially in California. (1 & 3) For goat
meat, buyers are paying about $2.19 per pound. (1) If a doe lives on the
range, her average life is 8-9 years. (1) With an average of two kids per
year, even if both of the kids are females, the profit just keeps pouring
Because the goats are browsers and eat noxious weeds, people
will lease the goats to get rid of their weeds. With the goats eating
other people's weeds, the Doolings don't have to feed their goats anything
most of the year. During the winter, the Doolings feed the goats
grass hay, in addition to whatever else the goats can find, such as the
bark from trees and some of the hardier shrubs. (1) With the food supplied
from browsing, and from the hay provided, each goat eats 5-7 pounds of
forage per day. (1) The reason that the goats aren't fed alfalfa hay is
because it is more expensive, and it also has a lot of protein in it.
With too much protein, the goat's cashmere fibers can get too thick. (1)
If the fiber is too thick, it won't meet national standards. Also,
with too much protein, the goats have some propensity to develop renal
The goats also enjoy canola vine. (1) This
is the agricultural byproduct of canola oil. The goats also sometimes
consume barley and weed hay. (1) Down in more southern parts of the country
where cotton is grown, cottonseed is commonly fed. Basically, most
agricultural byproducts are good feed to goats. (1)
Another thing that is really useful to the
Doolings is the goat's cashmere. Right now, the goat's cashmere isn't
in the best of shape, but with some pedigree cashmere blood, the nannies
will soon be producing twice as much as they are now. (3) Cashmere goats
need to be sheared once a year. (1) The goats are easier to shear than
sheep, because the goats will stand and let you clip them, while sheep
you have to turn over, which is a lot harder on your back. Another
thing that makes cashmere more profitable for the Doolings is that they
own the only knitting company in the U.S. that uses American Cashmere.
When I asked Ann about how hardy the goats
were, she said that they were doing pretty good. The goats are originally
from Texas. They were hauled up, four hundred at a time in sheep
trucks. Throughout the haul, they aren't allowed to have food or
water. Even through that, they were just more hungry than usual when
they were unloaded. Also, Ann and Tom only lose about 8-10 a year
in birthing. According to Ann, the reason that goats are so hardy
is because there hasn't been a lot of manipulation in genetics by man.
Goats are hardy, can withstand the cold, and
they can kid by themselves. There might be a future for these hardy
creatures. Some think automatically that goats are pesky critters
that eat anything. In reality, they might be another piece to the
puzzle of fighting weeds.
1. Dooling, Ann. Dillon, Montana. Phone number: 683-5445
2. Baucus, Nina. Helena, Montana. Sieben Ranch.
3. Baucus, Perry. "Weedeaters with an Attitude". The
Montana Standard. Vol. 124, No. 95. pg. A1 and A7.
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