Goats take bite out of leafy spurge
Leafy spurge has been one of the scourges of Wallowa County for decades. The noxious weed, with its 30-foot-plus roots is as difficult to remove as it is speedy to dominate a landscape.
In Northeast Oregon’s continual fight against invasive plant species, spurge has been one of the most tenacious since it got a good foothold in livestock pastures along Leap Road and Parsnip Creek northwest of Enterprise more than 50 years ago.
A cooperative effort to control leafy spurge with herbicides was not getting the desired results, so this year the Wallowa County Soil and Water Conservation District applied and received a grant to throw all the tools in the toolbox in an attempt to slow its spread.
The first treatment this summer is a herd of hungry goats — nearly 1,000 mothers and kids, who are extremely effective at taking off the seed head and stripping the leaves, crippling its ability to photosynthesize, said Larry Davis of Northwest Goat Grazers.
Davis and wife Nicole Bellows bought 100 goats last year to hire out for weed control, but when they got the 60-day contract to manage the leafy spurge along Leap Road, they brought in hired guns — goats from Prescriptive Livestock, a large operation headquartered in Kennewick, Wash.
“To make a significant dent and show a difference we decided to lease more animals,” said Davis.
They even came with their own goatherd, said Davis, freeing up Northwest Goat Grazers to fulfill other contracts.
The hired goats, their herding collies, and guard dogs went to work in early July and will take two or more passes through each patch of spurge as they work their way through the pastures along Parsnip Creek. So far, there’s a visible difference where the mix of Boer and Spanish goats have grazed so far.
The spurge along Leap Rd. is the oldest site in the Wallowa Valley and years of using chemicals was not getting ahead of the problem, said Davis. The landowners were up for trying something new.
In the wake of the grazing goats came the second tool, “flea beetles,” said Cynthia
Warnock of the Soil and Water District. The bugs were no cost to the project besides the time it took to release them.
In the fall, landowners will use herbicides as the third treatment and keep track of what chemicals were used and when, said Warnock, to test each tool’s effectiveness.
Using goats on the Parsnip Creek pastures may be a new method locally, buy
Davis said Prescriptive Livestock’s goats have been grazing the banks of Idaho’s Weiser River for 10 years.
Bellows said to see measurable results they will need to graze the same area for two or three years, but the” before and after” pictures show that the goats are making a big difference already.
Davis said the chemicals in the plant make it so a lot of livestock can’t eat it, but once the goats get a taste for it they do a really good job.
Warnock said the areas grazed by domestic sheep had kept the weed under control, but the steeper spots were hard to get. The infestation got so big, funding from the county and landowners was getting prohibitive.
Warnock said the Oregon Water Enhancement Board grant may cover two years in the battle against Parsnip Creek’s leafy spurge. A concern for a long time by both landowners overrun with spurge as well as their neighbors, Warnock said, “I credit the landowners for coming together on this.”