Goat Grazing

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The goats play an important role in maintaining the landscape at Leafhopper Farm. By grazing and browsing, these ungulates replace the wild species no longer roaming this area. Cervus canadensis are native, and some roam the valley not far from here, but they are not migrating through in vast herds as they once did, and the undergrowth has changed drastically in response.

The introduction of Rubus armeniacus by Luther Burbank, a famous plant breeder, and infamous eugenicist, to temperate climates across America from seed catalogues, left our region with an invasive legacy. Without intensive management, this plant will take over any open space. That’s where the goats come in, and they are very efficient at consuming the quick growing shrub.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how goats help maintain the farm grounds, and they can also be good lawnmowers in the fields. This helps keep grass seed down, and turn fodder into meat and more goats. In the picture above, Branwen stands at the edge of her finished grazing area. It’s easy to compare eaten swath to untouched pasture; what a difference!

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Above you see a recent cleared space the goats moved through. This area was infested with thick blackberry, which is still rooted in the ground, but not getting much sun anymore. That’s how the goats win out in the end, by taking the photosynthesis away from the bramble, curbing its expansive growth. Below you see another pictures of bramble takeover. It’s a patch of blackberry which will be mowed down to the nubs of rooted plant, then left to bake in the hot summer sun.

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The goats are keeping the grounds manageable, but they are not the long term plan for the landscape. Eventually, we’ll establish enough under-story and new trees to shade out the bramble, because in an intact forest, the ground cover of blackberry cannot establish, because not enough light penetrates through the layers of evergreen branches to the forest floor. If it does, I can easily clip the few that try to reestablish. Eventually, we’ll phase out goats at Leafhopper Farm, in favor of cultivating continued rich diversity of plants, without invasive bramble taking over.

Finally, a picture of the same space above, after goats graze it down for a full day. They really are amazing transformers!

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