Sheep Weed Control
Sheep Grazing on American Indian Reservations Control Leafy Spurge
|Above: Connie O'Brien, a former Extension specialist, uses a sweep net to count flea beetles on a North Dakota ranch infested with leafy spurge. The root- and stem-mining beetles provide one way to naturally control the pervasive, yellow-flowering weed; grazing sheep may work just as well or better. Photo by Ken Schneider.|
Sheep grazing on North Dakota ranges can help control leafy spurge, one of the most troublesome weeds of the Great Plains, allowing cattle ranchers to improve their pasture, research at North Dakota State University has found. To spread the word to field professionals and Native Americans on Dakota reservations about the benefits and "how-tos" of grazing sheep alongside cattle, Bill Ferris, formerly of NDSU's Extension American Indian Reservation Program, received a SARE professional development grant to run courses and demonstrations. The courses included presentations on stocking rates, managed grazing systems and predator control through fencing, among other topics. Project participantsspecialists from land grant tribal colleges in North Dakota and surrounding states, Cooperative Extension and the Natural Resources Conservation Servicevisited a grazing site that range specialists divided into sheep/cattle paddocks and a control area to study the sheep's inclination to graze leafy spurge. Project leaders, who grazed sheep alongside cow/calf pairs, recorded dramatic results in leafy spurge counts. In the first year of the project, the sheep grazed the leafy spurge like champs, reducing the weed population by about 37 percent. While sheep are rarely raised on North Dakota reservations, their effectiveness at controlling leafy spurge may bring a new industry to Native American ranchers. Standing Rock and Fort Berthold reservations are considering forming a sheep cooperative to improve their rangeland and explore products like lamb and wool. "If they put the sheep out there and control spurge, they're increasing the value of the land," Ferris says.
[For more information, go to http://www. SARE.org/projects/ and search for ENC99-042]