ASK Jeff: The Rodale Institute’s farm manager, Jeff Moyer, answers your hardcore farming questions

What kind of ground covers are best for goats?

Posted March 9, 2006

What Jeff brings to the table

Jeff Moyer, who’s been the farm manager here at the 333-acre Rodale Institute research farm for more than a quarter of a century, receives lots of mail from farmers just like you asking for advice. Jeff’s hands-in-the-dirt experience over the past 26 years has run the gamut from refining the farm's cover cropping and crop rotation systems (including managing 270 acres in a rotation of corn, small grains, hay, and edible soy beans for a Japanese market) to overseeing The Rodale Institue Farming Systems Trial®, the world’s longest running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional agriculture. We thought it would be fun and informative to share some of these farmer-to-farmer exchanges, and Jeff’s practical wisdom, with our readers … and we’ll be doing it on a regular basis.

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Dear Jeff,

I'm looking for recommendations to establish inexpensive ground covers that’re palatable for goats on this poor Ozark soil we have. We raise meat goats at this time and wish to maximize the use of this ground. Also, we are battling against broomsedge, which is choking out our pasture—an orchard grass, tall fescue and clover mix with a lot of weeds (which the goats will eat). Would burning the broomsedge and liming be the best method for controlling the broomsedge?

Mark Jones

Dear Mark,

Pasture management is a big concern for any livestock manager, but it is particularly important for an organic system since we can not depend on specific products. The first step in any management plan should include a soil test to get a snapshot of the chemical balance of the soil. Keep in mind that this is only a picture of the chemical side of the soil. It will tell you nothing about the physical or biological sides. This test will, however, tell you if you need lime to adjust your pH and what type of lime to use, (high calcium or magnesium.)

The next step will be to look at the cultural practices you are using. For example, do you clip the pastures on a regular basis, are they over- or under-grazed, and do you have a replant or renovation timetable?

Most pastures do best when managed in an intensive system. By that I mean you move animals on and off the pasture in a tight time sequence that encourages complete eating of the entire paddock area in 2 to 4 days; then the animals are moved to fresh pasture while the first paddock is given a 30-day recovery period. This intensive system is more work for the grazier, but it helps the soil and the pasture plants. Paddock areas not in use can be cut as hay and stockpiled for winter use.

You might need to do a renovation job on certain pasture areas by replanting grasses and legumes that do well in your particular area. Your local extension office will have all that information. If your problem is overgrazing, the solutions are more difficult since no amount of resource management will help. In that case, you'll need to keep the animals off the pasture for particular time periods while you feed processed forages.