Goats, sheep chow down to help manage noxious weeds

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WATCH ABOVE: Targeted small ruminant grazing is one way to control noxious weeds in the province. – Aug 2, 2018

It’s an average work day for Stuart Chutter, as he watches a herd of 3,500 sheep and goats, in a community pasture southwest of Davidson, Sask.

The goal is to graze a noxious weed called leafy spurge.

“The goats especially will eat up to 90 per cent of their diet in spurge. The sheep more 50 to 60 per cent and once they’re exposed to it, they develop a preference,” Chutter said.

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For the past three years from May through September, Chutter has been contracted to work the pasture.

While the sheep and goats won’t kill the noxious weed, a twice over grazing system aims to stop it from going to seed.

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“We’re knocking off the seed head in the spring and in the fall,” Chutter said.

“It’s slow. Leafy spurge is hard. It’s not overnight, but it’s working.”

Biological control with leafy spurge beetles have also been used to control the weed in the pasture.

“Leafy spurge is very difficult to control, so you need to look at all the tools and grazing is just one of the tools that can be used,” Chutter said.

“The goal is we can suppress the plant overtime, to the point where spot spraying and smaller scale control is doable.”

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Since April under the Farm Stewardship Program, Saskatchewan producers can access funding for targeted grazing projects to control specific large-scale noxious weed infestations. The funding is ideal when herbicide application is not environmentally feasible or practical.

“An integrated approach to weed control, could be needed because these are aggressive, persistent weeds,” said Sarah Sommerfeld, an agri-environmental specialist with the ministry of agriculture.

“If an infestation is large in size, and we define large as greater than five hectares or 12 acres, herbicide treatment may not be economically viable,” Sommerfeld said.

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For targeted small ruminant grazing, a producer can receive 50 per cent eligible costs up to $40,000 per project per year on noxious weeds, if first approved. This includes leafy spurge, common burdock, Canada thistle, Russian knapweed, common tansy, and absinthe.

There is also insect biological control funding on noxious weeds, for 50 per cent of eligible costs a maximum of $5,000.

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