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Kudzu Battle May Have Animal Ally

By Bonnie Coblentz

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A common sight around the state is a piece of farm equipment or an old out-building barely visible under a covering of kudzu.

Because it spreads rapidly, people fight an uphill battle to control the vine. But new studies have found that goats, with their tendency to eat anything green, may help destroy this weed.

Kudzu, native to the Orient, can grow more than 60 feet in a season, or up to a foot a day in early summer. The vine was imported to the United States in 1876 as an ornamental, and by 1905 was being used for forage and to prevent soil erosion. It thrives in the southeastern United States and when not controlled, rapidly overtakes anything left in its path.

Dr. John Byrd, Mississippi State University extension weed specialist, said once established, kudzu is difficult to kill.

"Some herbicides work, but they require repeated applications over an extended period of time," Byrd said. In some areas, frequent mowing or tilling for several year will ultimately eliminate the weed.

In forested sites, the most effective herbicide treatments for kudzu control are aerial sprays, as this is the only way to reach all of the climbing vine. But since kudzu often infests small plots of ground, aerial treatment is often too costly.

Dr. Andy Ezell, extension forestry specialist, said kudzu damages forests and causes major profit losses in the industry.

"It's easily costing the forestry industry in excess of $20 million a year in Mississippi," Ezell said. "With kudzu infestations, we are not able to realize the productivity of land that could be producing timber but is not."

Kudzu covers 7 million acres of land in the southeast and is spreading at a rate of 120,000 acres a year, Ezell said. In Mississippi, almost 250,000 acres are covered by kudzu. Control strategies exist for kudzu, but are costly and take a long time to be effective.

But the battle against kudzu may have an ally in goats.

Goats like to eat kudzu, and Mississippi is experiencing rapid growth in the goat meat industry.

A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study found that goats may provide an alternative to chemical or mechanical control of kudzu competing with pine trees.

Kipp Brown, Carroll County extension/international livestock agent, said some livestock producers in his county have goats eating kudzu. The goats are not pastured on kudzu, but keep it cleared when the vine grows into the area where they are held.

Goats prefer to eat young trees, bushes and vines, including kudzu. Kudzu is actually a high-quality, high-protein forage, similar in quality to alfalfa hay, Brown said. But as a vine sending roots down at many points, it is difficult to harvest.

If goats graze in a stand of kudzu long enough, they eventually should eliminate that kudzu by eating it down too often for the vine to survive, Byrd said.

However, adequate studies have not yet been conducted to determine the feasibility of using goats to control competing vegetation, such as kudzu. If shown to be effective, the goat production also would benefit local economies.

Mississippi already has experienced significant growth in the meat goat industry in recent years.

"I feel comfortable in saying there are 15,000 goats somewhere in the state, although these numbers can't be confirmed," Brown said.

The goats are being sold in large numbers for meat. Active markets exist on both the East and West Coasts, as well as in-state, among ethnic groups and others wanting this non-traditional meat.

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Released: May 12, 1997
Contact: Dr. John Byrd, (601) 325-4537

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