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Phragmites Control - With Goats?

weeds taking root

Back in 2012, CBS Sunday Morning aired a documentary on "Weeds Taking Root Beyond the Backyard". While they did a great job bringing to light the problems we face with invasive species, I would like to comment on the portion- Goats Eating Phragmites. The video made it seem that all you need to do is get some goats and in six weeks your phragmites will be gone. Anyone who has tried to eradicate their phragmites understands it is more difficult that just running a few goats out there.

This is what was reported in the documentary on August 19, 2012.

New York City hopes Larry Cihanek's goats will have better luck against another weed gone wild, an invasive variety of a reed called phragmites plaguing Freshkills Park, an enormous former landfill on Staten Island the city is restoring.

The experiment: To see if the goats will eat their way through 2 acres of the stuff.
"A goat eats about 20 percent of its body weight a day in weeds, so that's a 65/70-pound goat, so that goat's gonna eat 15 to 20 pounds of food a day," said Cihanek. "We have 20 goats. The objective was to do it in six weeks, and they'll certainly do it in six weeks."

It turns out they love phragmites. Six weeks later, success.

First, let me say Lancaster County Weed Department supports anyone wanting to use bio-control as part of their weed management plan, as long as they understand it is just another tool to use, but bio-control alone will not eliminate the weed problem. It is true that goats, as well as cattle will eat phragmites and do well on it. We have several landowners in Lancaster County that are grazing cattle on phragmites as part of their control efforts. The plan is to graze the area early to hold the plant back and then spray the re-growth in the fall when the plant will be most likely to take the chemical down into its massive root structure.

Goats and sheep have been used throughout Nebraska to help manage leafy spurge for years, so it is not new that they will also eat phragmites. In my experience goats will eat almost anything you put in front of them. While grazing has had some success, it does require a lot of time to move the animals around to the individual patches. However, if continued regularly it can eventually weaken the root system of the plant.

Some things you should know about using livestock to graze phragmites.

  • The animals will eat the plant and will not eliminate the root zone below the ground, so the plant will come back and try to produce seed.
  • You will have to fence off the area around the phragmites or leafy spurge to keep the animals in a particular area. This will need to be done several times during the growing season to prevent seed production.
  • Goats do not like to get in the water, and typically phragmites grows in and along the edge of water.
  • Cattle will not typically eat phragmites if it's in a pasture setting because they can eat grass on good solid ground. Phragmites is usually in a swampy area where it's difficult for a cow to walk, with muck up to their knees, so they avoid the area.

Contact Information
We need everyone's help, so if you would like more information on phragmites or would like to report an infestation contact the Lancaster County Weed Control Office.
Email: or phone 402-441-7817.

Brent Meyer
Brent Meyer
Weed Control Superintendent
Contact Brent at:
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite B
Lincoln, NE, 68528
(402) 441-7817