When Ray E. Holes bought 450 goats and put them on his ranch near Grangeville, Idaho, he hoped just to break even on the critters.
The idea was to use the goats to control yellow starthistle in areas where chemical control was cost-prohibitive. If he could reduce the thistle and brush density, it might open his rangeland up for more cattle grazing, offsetting the goats' management costs, he reasoned.
As it turned out, Holes did more than break even. He now owns about 6,000 Boer goats that are used on targeted grazing projects all over the Northwest.
About half his income comes from prescriptive grazing and half from the sale of 2-year-old goats for the meat market.
Experts say that prescriptive grazing holds great opportunity for producers who want to incorporate it into a successful weed control program.
But prescriptive grazing and the intensive management that comes with it carries additional costs.
Animals have to be purchased, maintained in proper health and monitored closely to minimize harm to desirable forage.
Under optimum conditions, prescriptive grazing animals feed themselves. But when the targeted vegetation contains secondary compounds or has little nutritional value, the animals may require supplemental feeding.
Prescriptive grazing may also require keeping an experienced herder with the animals at all times and often necessitates penning the animals at night.
Holes has several guard dogs and employs nine herdsmen, yet still lost one goat to wolves this year.
All told, the expenses can add up. But for some producers it appears to be worth it.
-- Dave Wilkins