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He Breeds Goats To Eat Cedar
A select line of goats in Texas may not love cedar, but they do like to eat it more than other goats do. Professor John Walker, range specialist, Texas A&M, has been developing goats with a preference for cedar over the past 15 years. One of the reasons for the study is that Eastern Red Cedar is an invasive species that now covers an estimated 50 million acres in Texas alone. It’s found in all 50 states.
“I used to raise stock dogs and thought if blue heelers and border collies could be bred to go at different ends of animals, why couldn’t we breed goats to eat different vegetation?” says Walker. “We started out identifying which goats in our herd ate the most cedar.”
Walker ran fecal samples through Near Infrared (NIR) spectroscopy calibrated for cedar. Instead of selecting for weight gain or weaning weight, he selected for cedar consumption.
“We identified high-consuming and low-consuming goats and started breeding within these groups to reduce the amount of cedar the low consumers ate and increase the amount of cedar the high consumers ate,” says Walker. “The high consumers that we call Aggie Cedar Eater (ACE) goats were eating two to three times the cedar as the low consumers.”
Walker’s goal was to see if the preference was due to genetics. He genotyped all the goats and identified markers that were different between the two groups. The goats were all Spanish/Boer crossbreds common to Texas.
“We found seven markers that were different,” says Walker. “We’re still working on what they mean.”
One possibility is that ACE goats are better able to deal with the tannin and terpene compounds found in cedar. These compounds make cattle and sheep averse to eating it.
Walker also evaluated the importance of the biome in cedar consumption. He split both flocks and exposed half of each group to cedar. The other halves were pastured in cedar-free areas. Kids from all four groups were weaned in a cedar-free lot for a month before being turned into an area with lots of cedar.
He found that exposure as kids did have an impact. Cedar was 30 percent of the diet of kids from the ACE group raised on cedar versus 20 percent of the diet of those raised without cedar. However, even the ACE goats raised without cedar exposure ate twice as much cedar as the low-consuming group.
“Regardless of where they were raised, cedar comprised about 8 to 10 percent of the diet of the low-consuming goats,” says Walker. “The difference in the ACE groups may have been partly their microbiome or learned behavior. However, the study indicated that genetics had a lot of impact.”
“If goats are eating more cedar, they are not eating as much other vegetation,” says Walker. “A producer with ACE-type goats should be able to run more goats if cedar is present.”
Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Dr. John Walker, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, 7887 U.S. Hwy. 87 N., San Angelo, Texas 76901 (ph 325-657-7327; jwalker@ag.tamu.edu).

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2023 - Volume #47, Issue #2