Penn State cost comparisons: Milk replacer vs. whole milk vs. waste milk

By Coleen Jones and Jud Heinrichs, Penn State University March 02, 2015 | 10:26 pm EST

We recently evaluated the costs of feeding pasteurized milk to calves in comparison to other feeding systems considering current market conditions. To do so, we utilized a spreadsheet tool we developed a few years ago with colleagues at Virginia Tech. The results may surprise you.

The spreadsheet, Calf Milk Pasteurization Evaluator, incorporates costs of feed, equipment ownership, labor, energy use, and cleaning. The table below is a summary of total cost per day using several feeding programs. This comparison was made with a batch pasteurizer available in three different sizes and capable of processing batches up to 10, 30, or 60 gallons. We assumed that the labor requirements for the various options were similar. All scenarios presented here assume that all calves are fed the same source of milk. The spreadsheet tool can be used to evaluate other options if waste milk supply is not adequate to provide feed for all calves.

The first two columns in the table provide estimated costs for feeding milk replacer; one program is a milk replacer with 20% protein and 20% fat fed at a rate of 1.25 pounds of powder per calf per day with a cost $75 per bag. The other program is a 26% protein, 20% fat product fed according to the manufacturer’s instructions in a step-up program. Over the course of 8 weeks the average amount of powder fed is 2.26 pounds per calf per day, and this product costs $98 per bag. The cost of the milk replacer programs includes the price of milk replacer, a charge for heating hot water to mix the feed, and a charge for soap and water used in cleaning equipment; we assumed mixing was done by hand and did not include any charge for a mixer.

The middle group of columns provides estimated costs for feeding pasteurized waste milk under three different scenarios. All of these scenarios assume that waste milk has a value of $3/cwt. The final column provides an estimate for feeding pasteurized whole milk (saleable milk drawn from the bulk tank), with an estimated value of $19/cwt. For most of the scenarios using a pasteurizer, the cost of pasteurization equipment was set at an estimated “base” price of $8,800 for the 10-gallon pasteurizer, $11,500 for the 30-gallon pasteurizer, and $13,500 for the 60-gallon pasteurizer; an additional $500 was assumed for installation costs for each model; and milk was fed at a rate of 1 gallon per calf per day.

Under the pasteurized waste milk heading, two alternative scenarios were included to help provide better understanding of the potential costs involved. First, the base price of each pasteurizer was approximately doubled, which represents a worst-case scenario of the amount of investment required to install a pasteurizer and any associated needs such as milk storage, cooling, transportation, or building modifications. Increasing the ownership cost of the equipment in this way provides a range for the cost of using a pasteurizer and increases the fixed cost of the feeding program. Another alternative scenario was estimated under the assumption that calves were fed 1.5 gallons per day, which increases the variable costs of the feeding program.

1For comparison to milk replacer, waste or whole milk often contains 26 to 28% protein and 28 to 30% fat on a dry matter basis.
2Base price set at $8,800 for the 10-gallon pasteurizer, $11,500 for the 30-gallon pasteurizer, and $13,500 for the 60-gallon pasteurizer; an additional $500 was assumed for installation costs for each model.
3Prices were increased to $16,000, $22,000, and $26,000 for the 10-, 30-, and 60-gallon models respectively; $500 installation was assumed for each model.
Pasteurizer and Number of Calves Fed Each Day Total Cost Per Day of Various Calf Feeding Programs
20:20 Milk Replacer, 1.25 lb/d 26:20 Milk Replacer, 2.26 lb/d Pasteurized Waste Milk1 Pasteurized Whole Milk, 1 gal/d1,2
Base Price, 1 gal/d2 ~2X Base Price, 1 gal/d3 Base Price, 1.5 gal/d2
10-gallon batch pasteurizer
20 calves $38.70 $89.91 $14.94 $19.07 $17.52 $42.46
10 calves $19.85 $45.45 $12.22 $16.35 $13.51 $25.98
5 calves $10.42 $23.23 $10.86 $15.00 $11.51 $17.74
30-gallon batch pasteurizer
60 calves $114.10 $267.72 $27.37 $33.40 $35.11 $109.93
30 calves $57.55 $134.36 $19.21 $25.24 $23.08 $60.49
15 calves $29.27 $67.68 $15.13 $21.16 $17.07 $35.77
60-gallon batch pasteurizer
120 calves $227.20 $534.44 $44.89 $52.07 $60.37 $210.01
60 calves $114.10 $267.72 $28.58 $35.76 $36.32 $111.14
30 calves $57.55 $134.36 $20.42 $27.60 $24.29 $61.70

If we use the rows of the table to compare feed costs for different programs, in almost every case feeding pasteurized waste milk at 1 gallon/day was the lowest cost option, followed by feeding pasteurized waste milk at 1.5 gallons/day. The one exception is when only 5 calves were being fed. With a small number of calves, the 20:20 milk replacer was the least expensive option, but by less than $0.50 per day. The third lowest cost in all rows is the scenario where the investment required in pasteurization equipment was doubled. When feeding 60 or more calves per day, feeding pasteurized milk from the bulk tank provided less expensive feed for calves than the 20:20 milk replacer. In all cases, the most expensive feeding program was the 26:20 milk replacer.

These comparisons do not take into account the differences in nutrition provided by the feeding programs or potential differences in the amount or cost of starter consumed by calves on the program. However, they provide good food for thought and may be a starting point for investigating the cost of your calf feeding program and evaluating potential alternatives. The Calf Milk Pasteurization Evaluator tool can be used to compare the amount of protein and energy provided by different feeding programs and to investigate feeding strategies for when the supply of waste milk is not enough to feed all calves.

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Women in Dairy

A mini video series just released by the National Young Farmers Coalition illustrates the challenges and joys of starting one’s own dairy farm.

The United States needs farmers more than ever, and yet the number of farmers is shrinking rapidly as more people move off the land and the cost of starting a farm continues to be prohibitively expensive. Agricultural land takes up nearly half the landmass of the U.S. – one billion acres – but 63 percent of the farmers who care for that land are 55 years of age or older. The next few decades could be a rocky time of transition as these farmers retire and there are not enough new farmers to take their place.

Of the young people who are interested in farming, the majority goes into farming vegetables or small livestock herds. Dairy, by contrast, is a tougher industry to enter because of the greater land requirements and higher cost of equipment. Dairy drives 70 percent of the economy in Vermont, as well as many other parts of the northeastern U.S., but it’s not growing fast enough.

“Today, farms have to get big or get out. There has been a massive die-off of dairy farms in the area,” says Sarah Lyons Chase, a dairy farmer in the Hudson Valley region.

The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) has become involved, in hopes of averting a food security crisis down the road. It addresses obstructive policies on behalf of new farmers and is attempting to create a supportive community for dairy start-ups.

One of its projects, in partnership with Stonyfield Farm, has been the Bootstrap Blogger series, in which five young female dairy farmers were asked to write a monthly blog post for one year, chronicling their experiences with starting dairy farms. Three of them created short videos, which have just been released by the NYFC for public viewing – and inevitable inspiration! (Yes, it makes me want to become a farmer.)

These videos are particularly interesting because the world of U.S. farming has long been dominated by men, but these indomitable and impressive young women show that it doesn’t have to be that way. With perseverance, humor, and a great love for the land, these women are working hard to build viable, sustainable farms and preserve the future of U.S. dairy farming in the process.

Chaseholm Farm Creamery is located in Pine Plains, NY. Sarah Lyons Chase is a third-generation dairy farmer who never thought she’d actually do it herself. Now she’s in the process of transitioning her family’s herd to being fully grass-fed herd and makes wonderful artisanal cheeses with the milk.

The Golden Yoke is run by Laura Ginsburg and Connie Surber in St. Ignatius, MT. Montana is a state whose dairy farms are shrinking; there were only 68 left when these women founded theirs in 2013. The Golden Yoke was the first new farm in years, and the first-ever grass-fed, seasonal dairy farm.

Clover Mead Farm in Keeseville, NY, is where Ashlee Kleinhammer produces 100 percent grass-fed, non-GMO, and Animal Welfare Approved cheese, raw milk, and yogurt.

Katherine Martinko

Treehugger
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Dairy Day 2015

2015 Delmarva Dairy Day
Hartly Fire Hall
Hartly, DE
Thursday Feb 26, 2015

9:30 to 10:15 AM Visit with Exhibitors, Coffee and Donuts

10:15 to 10:30 AM Farm Bill Update
Farm Service Agency

10:30 to 10:45 Irrigation Update
James Adkins, UD Cooperative Extension

10:45 to 11:15 Intensive Cropping – What Forage Crops to Consider
Tom Kilcer, Advanced Ag Systems

11:15 to 12:00 PM New Innovations in Dairy Replacement Heifer Management
Pat Hoffman, UW Madison- Vita Pus Corporation

12:00 to 1:00 PM Lunch (with UD ice cream!) and visit with Exhibitors

1:00 to 1:30 PM New Crops: BMR Sorghum and Same Day Haylage from Red Clover
Tom Kilcer, Advanced Ag Systems

1:30 to 2:15 Benchmarking Starch Digestibility in Lactating Cow Diets
Pat Hoffman, UW Madison- Vita Pus Corporation

Contact Info: Dan Severson: (302) 831-2506 (severson@udel.edu) or Limin Kung, Jr. (302 831 2522 (lksilage@udel.edu)

Cooperative Extension Education in Agriculture and Home Economics, University of Delaware, Delaware State University and the United States Department of Agriculture cooperating. Distributed in furtherance of Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. It is the policy of the Delaware Cooperative Extension System that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, disability, age, or national origin.

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Mad Cow Disease In Cananda

Canada’s agriculture minister issued an emphatic “no” when asked if Canadians should be worried about this country’s latest confirmed case of mad cow disease.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Friday that a beef cow from Alberta has tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). No meat from the animal entered Canada’s food or animal feed systems, the agency said.

With an investigation into how the animal contracted the disease underway, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said there is no danger to Canada’s beef industry.

“No, not at all, not at all,” Ritz said when asked by reporters Friday whether the case posed a risk to meat that Canadians consume.

Canada’s testing and reporting system follow strict international protocols, Ritz said, and conducting such frequent testing means that “you’re going to find things.”

Canada’s cattle industry is at controlled risk status, Ritz explained, which means this country can have up to 12 BSE outbreaks in a calendar year.

“We’ve stayed well below that,” Ritz said, adding that this is Canada’s first case since 2011.

The animal now under investigation was still at an Alberta farm when provincial testing detected BSE, Ritz said, and the CFIA was immediately notified.

Andrew Potter, director and CEO of Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), said the investigation into what led to the case of BSE will include the animal’s history and the type of feed it was given.

While a feed ban has been in place for 18 years and was strengthened in the wake of the mad cow scare of 2003, Potter said, it could be that an old bag of feed was “kicking around somewhere” that might have been used.

“It would not be all that unusual to see a spontaneous case of BSE every now and then. Certainly it’s within the realm of scientific possibility,” Potter told CTV News Channel from Saskatchewan.

“And I think one of the reasons we pick these things up is because the screening system we have in Canada right now is so good.”

It is “highly unlikely” that the cow spread the disease throughout a herd, he said, adding that “the odd case of BSE is probably happening in most countries that have intensive cattle-rearing operations around the world. The question is do they pick it up?”

During the 2003 mad cow outbreak in Alberta, dozens of international markets closed their doors to Canadian beef.

Although there will be some countries that will “look for any excuse to put non-tariff trade barriers” on Canadian beef, Potter said, “I don’t think a single case (of BSE) is going to impact us in any way.”

Ritz concurred, telling reporters that he’s not worried about Canada’s beef exports. Markets such as Japan and South Korea look for strict testing and reporting protocols, and Canada’s traceability program “is what gets us into those markets.”

“We don’t see this interfering with our trade corridors at this time,” he said.

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Apps for Dairy Calves

An article from Dairy Herd Management.

Here are five apps I wouldn’t give up:

WeatherBug
This app tracks the daily weather and future forecast.  I use it to prepare for the weather and know how to adjust the curtains in the calf barns.

Secure Guard
This app provides a live feed from the maternity area cameras to my iPad or computer.  I use it to monitor calves in the warming pens so I know how many calves I’ll have coming to our calf facilities the next day.

TeamViewer
With this app, I have the ability to look at DairyComp and other programs on the farm’s main computer from offsite locations.  That means I can look up an individual animal anywhere.

AnyList
The purpose of this app is to create and share grocery store lists.  We just shop at a few “non-traditional” grocery stores.  I use the app to create lists of supplies I need from different locations and suppliers.  It helps me organize and manage our calf tool inventory.

Numbers
This app is used to build and design spreadsheets.  I use it to track growth, trial data and other information collected at our calf site.

Bonus app:  Notes
This is a standard app on Apple devices and is used to track information or to take notes.  I use it to track any changes that happen at the calf site such as starting a trial, changing a product or anything of significance.  I will also make notes of any noticeable trends and to monitor employee activities to reference in future performance reviews.

Source: Vita Plus Starting Strong newsletter

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Coke and Milk

New York (AP) — Coke is coming out with premium milk that has more protein and less sugar than regular. And it’s betting people will pay twice as much for it.

The national rollout of Fairlife over the next several weeks is one way the world’s biggest beverage maker is seeking to diversify its offerings as Americans continue turning away from soft drinks.

It also comes as people increasingly seek out some type of functional boost from their foods and drinks, whether it’s more fiber, antioxidants or protein. That has left the door open for Coke step into the milk case, where the differences between options remain relatively minimal.

“It’s basically the premiumization of milk,” Sandy Douglas, president of Coca-Cola North America, said at an analyst conference in November. If developed properly, Douglas said it is the type of product that “rains money.”

Fairlife, which Coca-Cola formed in partnership with dairy cooperative Select Milk Producers in 2012, says its milk goes through a filtration process that’s akin the way skim milk is made. Filters are used to separate the various components in milk. Then, more of the favorable components are added, while the less favorable ones are taken out.

Fairlife says its milk has 50 percent more protein, 30 percent more calcium and 50 percent less sugar than regular milk, and is lactose free.

The same process is used make Fairlife’s Core Power, a drink marketed to athletes that has even more protein and calcium than Fairlife milk.

Sue McCloskey, who developed the system used to make Fairlife with her husband Mike McCloskey, said Fairlife milk will be marketed more broadly to women who are the “gatekeepers” for their families’ nutritional needs.

Even while touting its nutritional advantages, however, Fairlife will need to be careful about communicating how its drink is made. Jonas Feliciano, senior beverage analyst for market researcher Euromonitor, noted people increasingly want drinks that “do something for me,” but that Fairlife’s juiced-up nutritional stats may make people hesitant about how natural it is.

“They have to explain that this is not an abomination of nature,” Feliciano said.

Already, Fairlife has been subject to some teasing. After the drink was referenced in Coke’s analyst presentation, comedian Stephen Colbert referred to it as “extra expensive science milk” and made fun of the elaborate way it’s made.

“It’s like they got Frankenstein to lactate,” he said.

Colbert also took a dig at the wholesome image Fairlife is trying to project, noting that it’s made by the “nature loving health nuts at Coca-Cola.” That may explain why Coca-Cola is distancing itself from the product; a representative for the Atlanta-based company referred questions to Fairlife’s outside representative.

In a phone interview, Fairlife CEO and former Coke executive Steve Jones said he thinks his company can help reverse the decades-long decline in milk consumption. Already, major retailers including Wal-Mart, Target, Kroger and Safeway have agreed to carry it.

The drink has already started appearing on shelves and is expected to continue rolling out nationally over the next several weeks. It comes in sleek, plastic bottles reminiscent of milk cartons.

At a supermarket in Indianapolis, a 52-ounce bottle of Fairlife was being sold for $4.59. By comparison, the national average cost for a half-gallon of milk, which is 64 ounces, is $2.18, according to the USDA. For organic milk, the average is $3.99.

Fairlife is just one of many ventures by Coca-Cola, which also recently took stakes in energy drink maker Monster Beverages and Keurig Green Mountain, which makes single-serving coffee machines and pods.

Over time, Coca-Cola is hoping Fairlife can become a significant driver of growth. For now, Fairlife is still trying to find its footing in the marketplace.

This summer, the company ran ads in the test markets of Minneapolis and Denver featuring women wearing nothing but milk splashes in the shape of dresses. The images were accompanied by phrases like, “Better Milk Looks Good On You,” leading them to be deemed sexist in some corners.

Jones said the ads were intended to be “disruptive,” since new products need to grab people’s attention.

But moving forward, he said Fairlife will focus on its authentic milk taste in national marketing, which will roll out around the end of March or April.

While declining to provide details, Jones said Fairlife intends to “crank up the awareness level very, very quickly.”

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Why Athletes Should Drink Their Milk

An article from Hoard’s Dairyman:

by Abby Bauer, Associate Editor

It appears some current NBA players should have listened to their mothers when they were children and drank their milk.

While injuries are almost to be expected in the life of a professional athlete, a few recent incidences of broken legs in NBA basketball players (Indiana Pacers’ Paul George and Lakers’ rookie Julius Randle are two examples) have generated some concern.

Cate Shanahan, director of the Lakers PRO Nutrition Program, has said that she believes these broken bone injuries have less to do with random coincidence and more to do with a lack of dairy in the diet.

In an ESPN blog, Shanahan was quoted as saying, “From my perspective, there’s an epidemic of bone health problems in pro sports because guys are drinking soda instead of milk. They’re just not getting enough calcium.”

According to her calculations, some players are only getting 25 to 30 percent of the recommended daily calcium intake. She stated that one key issue is the stigma surrounding dairy products and the fat they add to the diet.

To try to overcome those perceptions and encourage people to choose dairy, some dairy companies are stirring up their advertising. For example, Dannon recently shelved spokesperson John Stamos, most well known for his role of Uncle Jesse on Full House, for Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton.

Newton will be the face representing their new NFL-branded Greek yogurt product called Oikos Triple Zero. Dannon felt Newton would appeal more to men in the audience and help bring more males to Greek yogurt, a category historically dominated by female consumers. These advertisements will be part of a large media campaign, including outlets such as ESPN channels and Men’s Health magazine, in attempt to bring sports enthusiasts and future potential athletes to the dairy aisle on a more regular basis.

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Starting a Small Flock of Chickens

An Article from Purina dealing with A backyard chicken flock.

SHOREVIEW, Minn. — Families across the country are joining the backyard flock revolution. With a coop, some chicks and a long-term plan of action, a backyard flock brings families fresh, wholesome eggs and the enjoyment of watching a baby chick grow into an egg-laying hen. The first step in establishing a backyard flock is creating a plan.

“We can gain a lot from a backyard flock,” says Gordon Ballam, Ph.D., director of lifestyle innovation & technical service for Purina Animal Nutrition. “Chickens can produce truly fresh eggs and flavorful, healthy meat. And we’re able to enjoy watching birds from our back porch and teaching our children responsibilities and how animals grow.”

Before buying new chicks this spring, Ballam encourages six tips in flock planning.

1. Select the breed that’s right for you.
Poultry breeds come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Families looking to produce eggs or meat are encouraged to start with common breeds of chickens.

“Determine what you’d like to gain from your flock,” Ballam recommends. “If you want fresh eggs, consider: White Leghorn hybrids (white eggs), Plymouth Barred Rocks (brown eggs), Rhode Island Reds (brown eggs), Blue Andalusians (white eggs) or Ameraucanas/Easter Eggers (blue eggs). Cornish Cross chickens grow quickly and are best suited for meat production. If you’re hoping to produce both eggs and meat, consider dual-purposed breeds like Plymouth Barred Rock, Sussex or Buff Orpingtons. Exotic breeds are best for show or pets.”

2. Determine the number of birds you’d like.
The number and gender of birds in your flock may be determined by local ordinances and your flock goals.

“Remember that young chicks grow into full-grown birds,” Ballam says. “Create a budget for: the time you are able to spend with your flock; the housing the birds will require; a plan for how you’ll collect and use eggs; and what you’ll do with the birds after they retire from laying eggs. Then start small with a flock of 4 to 6 chicks.”

3. Research a reputable chick supplier.
Purchase chicks from a credible U.S. Pullorum-Typhoid Clean hatchery. To prevent potential disease problems, ensure the hatchery vaccinated chicks for Marek’s Disease and coccidiosis.

4. Prepare your brooder.
Keep baby chicks in a warm, draft-free shelter, called a brooder. The brooder should: be completely enclosed with a bottom surface that can be covered with bedding; and have a heating lamp. Avoid square corners in the brooding area to prevent chicks from being trapped in the corner should the birds huddle in one area.

“Each chick needs at least 2 to 3 square feet of floor space for the first six weeks,” Ballam says. “Set the brooder temperature to 90 degrees Fahrenheit for the first week and then gradually reduce heat by 5 degrees Fahrenheit each week until reaching a minimum of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Be sure to have a spacious, clean coop ready for the chicks once the supplemental heat source is no longer required. Through all stages, always provide plenty of fresh clean water that is changed daily.”

5. Focus on sanitation.
Before new chicks arrive – and throughout the growing process – be sure to keep their environment clean. Young chicks are susceptible to early health risks, so disinfect all materials prior to use and then weekly.

“The correct household disinfectants can work well,” Ballam says. “Make sure to read the directions to ensure your disinfectant is safe to use and doesn’t leave a residual film. A mixture of 10 percent bleach and 90 percent water can work well, if the cleaner is rinsed thoroughly following cleaning.”

6. Create a long-term nutrition plan.
A healthy full-grown bird begins on day one. Provide a balanced starter diet to new chicks, based on their breed traits.

“For chicks who will later lay eggs, select a feed that has 18 percent protein, like Purina® Start & Grow® Crumbles,” Ballam recommends. “For meat birds and mixed flocks, choose a complete feed with 20 percent protein, like Purina® Flock Raiser®Crumbles. Transition layer chicks onto a higher-calcium complete feed, like Purina® Layena® Crumbles or Pellets, when they begin laying eggs at age 18 to 20 weeks.”

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Goats and Plant Invasion

An article from the BBC News

The goats fighting America’s plant invasion

Eco goats in action

Each country has its own invasive species and rampant plants with a tendency to grow out of control. In most, the techniques for dealing with them are similar – a mixture of powerful chemicals and diggers. But in the US a new weapon has joined the armoury in recent years – the goat.

In a field just outside Washington, Andy, a tall goat with long, floppy ears, nuzzles up to his owner, Brian Knox.

Standing with Andy are another 70 or so goats, some basking in the low winter sun, and others huddled together around bales of hay.

This is holiday time – a chance for the goats to rest and give birth before they start work again in the spring.

Originally bought to be butchered – goat meat is increasingly popular in the US – these animals had a lucky escape when Knox and his business partner discovered they had hidden skills.

“We got to know the goats well and thought, we can’t sell them for meat,” he says. “So we started using them around this property on some invasive species. It worked really well, and things grew organically from there.”

They are now known as the Eco Goats – a herd much in demand for their ability to clear land of invasive species and other nuisance plants up and down America’s East Coast.

Brian Knox

Poison ivy, multiflora rose and bittersweet – the goats eat them all with gusto, so Knox now markets their pest-munching services one week at a time from May to November.

Over the past seven years, they have become a huge success story, consuming tons of invasive species.

“Start Quote

This is old technology. I’d love to say I invented it, but it’s been around since time began”

Brian Knox Eco Goats

“I joke that I drive the bus, but they’re the real rock stars,” says Knox, who also works as a sustainability consultant.

Typically, chemicals and/or machinery are used to clear away fast-growing invasive plants, but both methods have their drawbacks. Chemicals can contaminate soil and are not effective in stopping new seeds from sprouting. Pulling plants out by machine can disturb the soil and cause erosion.

Goats, says Knox, are a simple, biological solution to the problem.

“This is old technology. I’d love to say I invented it, but it’s been around since time began,” he says. “We just kind of rediscovered it.”

One of the reasons goats are so effective is that plant seeds rarely survive the grinding motion of their mouths and their multi-chambered stomachs – this is not always the case with other techniques which leave seeds in the soil to spring back.

Unlike machinery, they can access steep and wooded areas. And tall goats, like Andy, can reach plants more than eight feet high. A herd of 35 goats can go through half an acre of dense vegetation in about four days, which, says Knox, is the same amount of time it takes them to become bored with eating the same thing.

Andy the goat

“When they move on to a new site, you can see the excitement in the way they eat,” he says.

“They like the magic of getting on the trailer when all the food has gone and then they ride around for a bit and the next thing, the door opens and there’s a whole new smorgasbord to eat.”

Even more plant species could be added to the goat’s diet, judging from some new research.

At Duke University in North Carolina, marine biologist Brian Silliman has spent 20 years working on understanding and eradicating the invasive species phragmites.

This reed, which thrives in salt marshes, can grow up to 10 feet tall, pushing out native species and blocking bay and sea views for coastal residents.

Burning phragmites in MichiganOne way of tackling phragmites is to burn it

Silliman says at first he tried insects and other forms of “bio control” to tackle the plant, but nothing worked.

“Then I took a holiday to the Netherlands, where the plant comes from, and saw it wasn’t a problem there because it was constantly being grazed by animals,” he says.

In studies, Silliman found that goats were very effective – in one trial, 90% of the test area was left phragmites-free.

“I think all wetland managers should take up this method,” he says. “It’s cheaper, less polluting, better for the environment and goat farmers get paid.”

One plant goats are increasingly being used to clear is kudzu. This fast-growing vine, native to east Asia, was first introduced into the US in 1876, as a ornamental plant that could shade porches and prevent soil erosion.

Kudzu grows over a house
Kudzu covers a valley

But it is now often described as “the vine that ate the south” because of its ability to grow up to a foot a day in the warm environment of south-eastern states like Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

“Start Quote

We found that the goats led all the mutinies”

Brian Cash Ewe-niversally Green

Over the last 10 years, however, many landowners have successfully removed it using goats who repeatedly graze the plant until it loses the will to grow back.

Brian Cash runs one of three animal grazing businesses in Georgia where kudzu is a huge problem, not just because of the ground it covers but of the “kudzu bug” – a small beetle which thrives on the plant and which causes a burning sensation when squashed by bare skin.

He learned about keeping a grazing herd on the US West Coast, where there are several dozen well-established goat grazing companies, but decided to adapt the formula.

“In the end we used herds of mostly sheep with some goats mixed in as we found the goats were harder to control,” he says of his company Ewe-niversally Green. “We found that the goats led all the mutinies.”

Brian Knox, in Maryland, agrees that some goats can be troublesome and even admits to donating his grumpiest animal to a local butchery class.

But overall, he says he has a happy relationship with the animals.

“They certainly earn their keep,” he says.

One of the more high profile jobs they have worked on was cleaning up the Congressional cemetery in Washington two years ago.

Large crowds came to watch as the animals spent a week chomping the overgrowth of Honeysuckle, Ivy and Poison Ivy. The goats even featured in newspaper and news programmes around the country.

Goats clearing the Congressional cemetery
Goats clearing the Congressional cemetery

This is one of the things he likes about taking goats into urban areas – the response of the city-dwellers, who are “fascinated”, he says, to see how efficiently the goats gobble up the vegetation.

“It’s still quite novel,” says Knox.

Goats aren’t a silver bullet. Knox often combines the goat clearance with some manual root cutting and even with a chemical treatment if needed.

But his goats have started to make an impact on the weeds choking America and, he says, they are having a lot of fun doing it.

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