Fremont County producer uses goats to manage vegetation in WyomingWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Riverton – “We started having just a few goats, and now we have the largest goat herd in the state,” states Terry Hayes of the Open A Lazy S Ranch.
“We have show goats and different types of goats for events, barbecues and backyard events. We’ve also branched out in the last 15 years into biological weed control and vegetation management,” he remarks.
Hayes uses his goats to browse weeds out of ditches and waterways, from around sewer ponds, and more.
“A lot of people have us clean up stackyards. Especially if they have horses, they don’t want top bales that have been rained on or bottom bales that are full of dirt. I also go out and pick up hay when people bale the outside rounds of their fields where cheatgrass and kochia grow,” he says.
When goats are introduced to an area early enough in the season, they can be used to eliminate plants such as foxtail, cheatgrass, Russian knapweed and other weeds.
“Goats browse off the seed heads, which causes plants to be unable to reseed the following year,” Hayes explains.
Microorganisms in the animals’ stomachs also prevent seeds from replanting after passing through their digestive tracts.
“In other animals, some of the seeds can make it clear through the system and then, with the fertilizer, can actually regrow faster,” he notes. Because they have a diverse diet, goats target plants other than alfalfa and grass and eat a large variety of plants in an area.
“Goats will eat about anything. The general myth that they will eat a tin can is pretty much true,” he mentions.
Hayes raises his goats on weedy forage and low-quality hay to acclimate them to a diet that targets unwanted plants.
“Milkweed is poisonous to them, but they can build up a tolerance. We cut down milkweed and feed it to ours,” he says.
Because they are resistant to many plant toxins, goats can be used in areas with leafy spurge or larkspur without experiencing abortions or death that other livestock are susceptible to.
Hayes adds, “Goats are capable of eating these undesirable plants while also producing a marketable product, such as meat from Boer goats or milk from dairy breeds.”
With the passage of the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, Hayes is now able to sell goat milk to customers in Fremont County and around the state.
Before the act was passed, Hayes mentions, “I had been selling milk to a lot of veterinarians, but the bottles had to be labeled for non-human consumption.”
Along with vegetation management, Open A Lazy S Ranch also leases out their goats as rodeo stock and for breeding.
“There is a big, diverse market for them, so they are making money throughout the year instead of just six months in the summer,” he states.
Hayes also comments, “We’ve built relationships with a lot of different people because goats can be used for all types of different factors.”