Grazing new trails: Ohio farmer takes holistic approach

PLEASANTVILLE, Ohio — Four years ago, Mark Scarpitti of Pleasantville, Ohio, added a few meat goats to his sheep grazing operation. The next year, he sold off the sheep.

He was hooked.

It didn’t hurt that the goat market is growing in Ohio, compared to a bleaker sheep and wool market — it cost Scarpitti more to shear the sheep than the price he received for the wool.

And, he’s discovered, “goats are more personable and respect the electric fence better,” a plus for any farmer with grazing livestock.

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The science of farming

Scarpitti is also the state agronomist for the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, so he has a keen interest in the forages his livestock consumes and the impact of grazing on the soil.

He developed a unique grazing system — taking a holistic approach — to manage the herd of 60 registered Boer meat goats on his 30-acre grazing operation. He incorporates cool season and warm season forages, as well as forages containing moderately high levels of condensed tannins.

“One of the challenges of grazing goats on our traditional pastures in the Midwest is that goats are browsers,” Scarpitti explained. “They prefer to eat forages that are at least 18 inches off the ground.”

He wanted to try to take advantage of the goat’s ability to browse by planting a variety of forages, including warm season grasses in the summer.

Midwestern goat producers have compounded the parasite resistance in goats by purchasing goats from the South that were resistant to the chemical dewormers. The goats were then put on traditional pastures and not dewormed properly.

Onfarm research

In 2006, he received a $6,000 competitive grant from the USDA’s Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education for an onfarm project to study forages that have higher condensed tannins to see if it would make a difference in controlling parasites.

It did. According to Scarpitti’s research, the goats browsing forages containing condensed tannins did have fewer parasites. This was shown through FAMACHA evaluations (which relies on a system of diagnosis relating to the color of the eyelid of the animal), by general body condition and by fecal egg counts.

Warm season grasses

In his grazing program, Scarpitti found the warm season forages had several advantages. They produce higher volume and quality during the summer; they’re drought tolerant; and there’s less chance of ingestion of worm larvae because they are a taller plant.

On the flip side, he pointed out several disadvantages of the warm season forages: They have higher priced seed; take three years to establish; and require more grazing management so they’re not grazed into the ground.

The warm season forage called Eastern gammagrass has the potential to provide enough forage for 25-30 does per acre, Scarpitti said, and can get to the height of 7 feet.

He’s even written guides about how to establish and manage warm season grasses. They will be available soon on his Web site, www.boersinc.com.

He also encourages livestock producers to apply for EQIP government funding to help develop grazing paddocks.

Scarpitti has had success direct marketing his goats to the consumer, as well as selling breeding stock and 4-H projects.

Visit the farm

Amazing Graze Boer Goat Farm
4395 Richland Road N.E.
Pleasantville, Ohio 43148
740-468-1042

Owner Mark Scarpitti will host a farm tour, sponsored by the OSU Sustainable Ag Team, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. June 28. Preregistration is required, as the tour includes a barbecue lunch; contact the Clinton County Extension office, 937-382-0901. Several presentations will explain designing holistic systems for meat goats. The fee for attending this field event is $10 per person.

About the Author

Amy Fovargue is a freelance writer from Knox County, Ohio. More Stories by Amy Fovargue

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