Mixed Species Grazing, A Potential Win-Win Situation
You’ve likely heard the importance of diversifying your investment portfolio, but have you thought about diversifying your ranch enterprises? What if you could diversify while controlling for red cedar and other woody plants? This line of questioning lead us to analyze the potential for mixed species grazing, specifically grazing goats alongside your cow-calf herd. Woody plant encroachment is a serious problem, resulting in less profitable rangeland due to the need to decrease stocking rates. The land becomes less productive due to water being diverted to woody plants, and shading. Common ways to control woody plant encroachment includes grazing management, herbicides, and prescribed fire.
In our analysis, we compared cattle grazing with herbicidal control, prescribed fire, prescribed fire with stocker goats, and prescribed fire with breeding goats. The full paper is available here: https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11051226. Using cost-benefit analysis, with our assumptions, we were able to determine that the most profitable option was cattle grazing with breeding goats and prescribed fire (positive NPV 99.9% of the time). In our analysis, we assumed that you could have two does per cow. Goats consume primarily browse (woody perennials) making their diet different from cattle. This allows goats to graze alongside cattle with little competition for forage. We purchased does in August of year 1, we assumed a kidding rate of 125%, and sold kids in June. All prices were simulated based on historical prices. Prescribed fire was conducted twice a year, using a rotating patch system.
Before you consider adding goats to your operation, there are a few considerations. The main benefits of adding goats, is the sale of the kids, and woody plant control. Currently, there are experiments underway to determine more accurately how much woody plant control goats provide. The ongoing results look promising, but we used a conservative assumption in our analysis. Goat meat is increasing in popularity as American tastes change, resulting in strong meat goat prices. Despite these benefits, adding goats to the operation may not be for everyone. One of the highest expenses is the additional fencing required to keep goats on your property. We analyzed building a complete fence, depending on your current fencing you may only need to make modifications. An additional issue for goat production is predation. We included the cost for a livestock guardian dog to decrease predation loss, in addition to expected expenses such as feed and medication.
The control of woody cedar greatly impacts the long-term productivity of your rangeland, and ultimately your profitability. Mixed species grazing is just one option for improving your rangeland through woody plant control, while providing an additional revenue stream. We are continuing to analyze this scenario as more results from the real life experiment come out over time. Although these preliminary results are promising, depending on labor constraints and fencing ability, mixed species grazing may only be a profitable option for some cow-calf operations.
By Courtney Bir, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Economist