Goat Silvopasture

By Debi Kelly on 23 Jun 2017

A donkey guards baby goats.
The best way to protect woodlands from invasive plant species turns out to have four legs, an insatiable appetite and a very low environmental impact, according to a local scientist’s findings.
Since fall 2011, Charlotte Clifford-Rathert, DVM, an assistant professor at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, has been studying the use of goats to restore native vegetation in woodlands at the school’s 280-acre Busby Farm, Missouri’s largest organic research farm. She has found this system is beneficial for the goats and the land.
“This is a perfect place for goats,” Clifford-Rathert said. “Instead of mechanically [or chemically] clearing you can use goats for less of an impact on the environment. I’m really anxious for the next two years to show, ‘See? it really does work.’”
To conduct the three-year study, Clifford-Rathert partitioned off six seven-acre paddocks of the farm’s woodlands; three are occupied by goats. The goats munch on invasive species such as multiflora rose and Japanese honeysuckle, leaving the forest floor weed-free and able to regrow native plants. 
Clifford-Rathert and her team of two graduate students move goats from acre to acre every four to seven days and study the effects the goats have on the woodlands.
Researchers observe the land and goats closely, monitoring weight gain, intestinal parasites in the goats and soil fertility and compaction. The grazing has cleaned up the forest floor, seriously diminishing invasive plants, and the goats have far less parasites than if they had been grazing traditionally, Clifford-Rathert said.
Learning about the effects of woodland grazing has several benefits, she said. Farmers can make money on a wood crop by making their woodlands usable. Clifford-Rathert said farmers could get a good wood crop every 10 to 15 years, with an annual meat crop in between, when utilizing this agroforestry practice.
“It’s frustrating to me that people have woodlands but aren’t using them,” she said.
Cleaning up woodlands also diminishes the risk for forest fires, Clifford-Rathert said.
She said the U.S. Department of Agriculture was interested in her research because it could provide solutions to forest fire problems.
“If that stuff is all gone, there’s no fuel to the fire,” she said. In addition to benefitting farmers and providing a fix for forest fires, woodland grazing restores the woods to their natural state. Clifford-Rathert said she’s become very excited about the work she’s doing at Busby Farm.
“It’s my passion; it’s really become what I get up in the morning to do,” she said. “I see the potential, one year later, two years later, three years later. I can’t wait for it.”(By Katie Moritz, MU Center for Agroforestry Intern)