Holistic ranch management

SUN JOURNAL

Livestock: Cows and goats and llamas and coyotes, oh my. It's more efficient than the more standard practice of using herbicides.

September 24, 1999|By Roy Wenzl | Roy Wenzl,WICHITA EAGLE

BUFFALO, Kan. -- In the world of Kansas livestock ranching, the stockman knows he's got two enemies in the cow pasture.

One is the coyote that steals his stock. The other is the weed that chokes his grass.

Now he's got two new allies.

Which is why we find ourselves rolling through a bull pasture in southeast Kansas, sitting alongside Wildcat Ranch foreman Carroll Bennett, in the seat of a dusty pickup truck with two hunting rifles in the gun racks.

Outside the truck, staring at us with expectant curiosity, is a herd of critters John Wayne would not have been caught dead with.

There are six black Angus bulls. Four hundred horned and nickering Spanish goats. And one long-necked guard llama with an itch somewhere under the brown wool of his left haunch.

"Name's Dewey," Bennett says. "Dewey's done a good job."

Dewey guards goats.

In the year since Bennett bonded llama with goats, he and his boss, Lee Borck, have lost no goats to the wily coyote. The goats have increased and multiplied. And they have eaten the evil weed, Sericea lespedeza. And the scrub oak. And the sumac.

These men are innovators, say experts at Kansas State University. With invasive Sericea lespedeza threatening to ruin pastures in east Kansas, state organizations and private ranchers are experimenting with the pasturing of goats.

It's a move made in desperation. Experts don't know how to stop the weed, but they do know that goats eat it. Hence the new popularity of goat ranching.

And while goats save pastures, llamas save goats. And both save the rancher money. Which brings us back to Dewey.

He may look goofy. He may be a three-stomach ruminant with a neck that looks as if he stretched it during a long run through a stout wire fence. He may look like what a committee would design if it tried to cross a camel with a sheep with an ostrich.

But Dewey is a camelid, a proud cousin to the camel. And camelids, as camelid experts will tell you, heartily detest the dog family.

So Dewey chases coyotes.

Dewey looks at us now out of those camelid eyes. He chews and chews and chews with that camelid mouth.

And then he does something none of us have seen a noncamelid do. He reaches up, in a display of loose-jointed dexterity, and scratches the left side of his rump -- with his left hind foot.

Borck is the president and chief partner in the Ward Feed Yard, which fattens 25,000 cattle. Two years ago, he became concerned about scrub oak, sumac and Sericea lespedeza choking off the grass on his 5,000-acre Wildcat Ranch. Borck could have deployed herbicide sprayers -- at $50 an acre. Instead he considered the humble goat.

On a chance visit, he had seen how a goat herd near his ranch had cleared weeds from a cow pasture. Bennett told him that Texans have long known that goats eat weeds and scrub.

"And they don't eat grass, unless they run out of weeds," Bennett says. "You can pasture them with cows."

So Borck and Bennett bought goats -- hundreds of goats. Billies with beards. Nannies with udders. Black, brown and black-and-white goats. Goats with horns. Goats that stand on their hind legs and put their front hoofs on the trunks of scrub oak trees and reach high for deciduous leaves. Goats that eat bark off the scrub oaks. Goats that eat sumac. Goats that eat Sericea lespedeza.

And they increased and multiplied, to a herd of 1,500.

"This makes financial sense," Borck says. "Instead of pouring herbicide onto the ground, the goats clear the weeds out, and you can sell the goats as meat goats."

But then the coyotes came.

Coyotes sing sweetly, but they kill: 243,800 sheep worth $11.5 million, 69,350 cattle worth $21.8 million. All this, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, for 1994.

They also wrought mayhem among goats. In the top five goat states, an estimated 41,000 goats worth $4.5 million were killed by coyotes.

Coyotes reproduce a lot, too; kill a coyote, and his cousins and brothers come in his place, increasing and multiplying and stealing. A century of gunfire and poison and traps has accomplished nothing.

Borck knows this. So he tried another method.

On a tip from wildlife experts at Kansas State, he called Three-M Llama Farms and spoke to Suzie McClintock, who, with her husband, Gary, raises llamas.

She sold Borck 400 friendly pounds on four cloven hoofs -- a brown, woolly, gelded and pedigreed llama officially registered under the name of Three-M Dogdays Dewey.

"We just call him Dewey," Bennett says.

"As far as guardian animals go," Suzie McClintock says, "I think llamas are even better than dogs."

Are you saying Dewey could out-Lassie Lassie?

"Well, yeah," McClintock says. "For one thing, you don't have to feed a llama. If it's guarding sheep in a pasture, it eats the same grass that the sheep eat.

"And they really go after coyotes. It's instinctive," she says. "I'm not saying they would kill a coyote as fast as an attack dog might kill it. But if a coyote tries to fight a llama, I can tell you, when it's over, that coyote is gonna go limping off."

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