Over the years, we have tried many different ways of controlling coyote brush. Coyote brush is a native pioneer species that has exploded across coastal rangelands since migrating elk and indigenous controlled burns were replaced with heavy tillage and continuous grazing. At TomKat Ranch, we have been working hard to restore the health of our grasslands, and we’ve found that a good balance of grass and brush in our rangelands provides both forage for livestock and important habitat for wildlife.
In the past, mowing on the coast has been the primary mode of control, but is required every 2-3 years as mowed brush quickly returns. We have experimented with animal impact, feeding cows large bales of hay on top of the brush in the hopes that their big bodies will trample and crush the brush, but that has seen limited success as the brush inevitably returns.
Recently, a large herd of 600 goats visited the ranch to try another method of brush control. Goats are browsers so our hope was that they would like eating coyote brush or at least strip the plants of vegetation to slow plant growth. However, the goat impact on the brush was minimal at best and some areas were barely affected; if the goat droppings hadn’t been evident, we might not even have know they were there!
As we consider options for our next try at managing a healthy brush balance on the ranch, it is worth noting that apprentice, Hayley Strohm, took brix readings (leaf sugar content) of the coyote brush during the time the goats were at the ranch. Hayley noted that the goats grazed the most brush right after it rained. As a result of the rain, the brix shot up from 12 to 22. Perhaps the palatability improved? We don’t actually know. Unfortunately for our experiment, the goats were scheduled to leave the ranch so we couldn’t compare additional days.
For future experiments, we hope to look more into the timing of when to have goats, and whether increasing pressure with more animals, such as cows and sheep, in the same paddock, could push goats to eat more brush. While the goat experiment did not yield the results we had hoped, we look forward to trying other methods and combining strategies to find an effective way to help keep our rangelands healthy and our brush under control.