Natural landscape control takes root
Business specializes in clearing unwanted vegetation with grazing goats
By DOUG WARNOCK
For the Capital Press
Both public and private entities are making use of the natural approach to landscape management with grazing and browsing livestock.
Recently, the Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council contracted with Healing Hooves, a vegetation management business, to clear vegetation adjacent to the Walla Walla River in northeastern Oregon. The purpose was to clear the way for an inspection by the Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate the integrity of the river levy and to determine necessary maintenance.
This levy provides flood control to the Milton-Freewater area. The nine-day project, which utilized over two hundred goats to remove brush and weeds, was financed by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The goats provide a natural approach to vegetation removal and are able to cover areas that are too dangerous for machinery and too sensitive for chemical removal. They go where no mower can go. Healing Hooves, which is owned and managed by Craig and Sue Lani Madsen of Edwall, Wash., provided the goats for this project. Madsen's herd is a combination of adult goats and kids.
"They're reducing the populations of cottonwood saplings, wild-rose, and blackberry bushes, as well as, Scotch and Musk thistles along the Walla Walla River levy," Craig Madsen said. Madsen uses a portable electric fence to control the browsing area and moves the fence about every one to two days, as each area is cleared to the desired level. The fence has a solar-powered energizer.
When Madsen left the Walla Walla River project, he went to a job near Quincy, Wash., where he cleared security berms of weeds that are difficult to mow on land owned by the software company Intuit. This summer his projects will include vegetation management for Pacific Lutheran University, King County, a Fish and Wildlife fish hatchery, Overlake Golf and Country Club in Bellevue, Wash., and several other places in Western Washington.
Healing Hooves' active season begins in May of each year and usually includes a short recess in early August and then runs into early October. During the off season the goats feed on pasture and hay at the home place.
The Madsens have operated their vegetation management business since 2002. Their customer base is split about equal between public and private ownership.
"To be successful in changing a landscape, we must consider timing of the treatment and livestock preferences," Madsen said. "Timing is important in that target plants must be grazed when they are palatable and when it will deter their reproduction. Understanding livestock preferences helps in determining when to browse so that desirable plants are protected and unwanted plants targeted while ensuring the animals have a diet with adequate nutrition."
Doug Warnock, retired from Washington State University Extension, now lives on a ranch in the Touchet River Valley, where he consults and writes on ranch management.