cover page title: Multi-Species Brazing and Leafy Spurge Manual
A comprehensive, easy-to-read manual on using multi-species grazing as an effective leafy spurge management tool.

Table of Contents


Economic Considerations

There are many economic considerations to keep in mind when evaluating leafy spurge and how it affects your operation.

The impact on individual operations varies depending on a number of factors, but one thing is certain: If youíve go leafy spurge, youíre either losing money or arenít making as much as you could, and ignoring the problem will only make matters worse. In addition to reducing productivity, infestations will ultimately, and perhaps drastically, reduce the value of your land.

In regard to the bigger picture, leafy spurge has a significant economic impact on cattle producers throughout the northern Great Plains, and on the economy in general. Infestations in just four states, for example – the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming – are estimated to cost agricultural producers and taxpayers more than $144 million a year in production losses, control expenses and other impacts to the economy.

Obviously, there should be plenty of economic incentive for managing leafy spurge.

Estimating Potential Losses

As an example of the losses that can result from leafy spurge infestations, letís take a look at the following figures.

AUM Loss from a 100-acre leafy spurge infestation with 25% canopy cover over 10 years
Carrying CapacityLost AUMs
0.2 AUMs/ac192
0.4 AUMs/ac384
0.6 AUMs/ac576

Most rangeland in the western U.S. falls somewhere in this range (granted, some will be more or less productive). Letís assume your rangeland has a sustainable carrying capacity (i.e., properly stocked- 8 - and not over-grazed) of 0.3 AUMs/acre. If you have 100 acres of leafy spurge, you can expect to lose about 300 AUMs over a 10-year period. If an AUM is worth $15, you lose $4,500 (.3 AUM/acre x 100 acres x 10 years x $15 loss/acre = $4,500). Note that this is aminimal estimate which does not include any losses associated with expansion of the spurge infestation, expenses for control efforts or potential benefits generated from recovered AUMs.

Letís now consider the issue of what is "economically feasible." The are two crit eriato determine if leafy spurge control is economical.

Dollars and Sense

This manual spends a significant amount of time covering economics, and with good reason: Economics is a primary consideration when evaluating leafy spurge and long-term management strategies. For more information, see the following reports by the North Dakota State University Department of Agricultural Economics:
"Impediments to Controlling Leafy Spurge in the Northern Great Plains," Miscellaneous Report 185.
"Feasibility of a Sheep Cooperative for Grazing Leafy Spurge," Report 435 (summarized in 435-S).
"Economic Analysis of Controlling Leafy Spurge," Report 432 (summarized in 432-S).
"Perceptions of Leafy Spurge by Ranch Operators and Local Decision Makers," Report 406 (summarized in 406-S; updated in Statistical Series Report 56).
"Ranch Operatorsí Perceptions of Leafy Spurge," Report 400.
These and other reports are available on the WorldWideWeb at and and may also be obtained by calling, emailing or writing to NDSU/Department of Agricultural Economics, Fargo, ND 58105- 5636 (701/231-7441;

The first criteria – benefit-cost – requires you to add the benefits from control (in this case, AUMs recovered and retained from treatment) and the costs of control. If benefits exceed costs, the control is considered economical.

The second – least-loss – determines if youíd lose less money treating leafy spurge than by doing nothing at all.

Letís use our earlier example of a 100-acre infestation on rangeland with a carrying capacity of 0.3 AUMs per acre and AUMs valued at $15.You already know youíll lose about $45 per acre of leafy spurge over a 10-year period ($45 x 10 years = $4,500). If you implement a multispecies grazing program, youíll want to spend less than $4,500 to treat the infestation over a 10-year period. If you do, the treatment costs less than the loss, and can thus be considered economical.

Using the same example, if you spend $5,000 on a multi-species grazing to treat the 100-acre infestation but only recover 50% of the lost grazing output, losses will total $2,500 ($5,000 treatment costs less $2,500 in benefits). In this case, benefits do not exceed treatment costs, BUT... youíre still better off – doing nothing will cost you at least $4,500, whereas treatments using the least-loss scenario cuts that loss to about $2,500.

Hopefully, these examples have helped illustrate how to determine if treatment can be "economically feasible."

If youíre interested in multispecies grazing, youíll have to determine which option provides the best fit for your operation:
• Free sheep
• Fee sheep (renting or leasing)
• Sheep as a permanent addition to your existing operation

Is It Right for Me?

Now we need to go through some questions to help determine if multi-species grazing is the right tool for you.

1. Do you really want to control leafy spurge? Are you willing to make the longterm commitment required to reduce existing infestations, stop the spread and startreclaiming lost grazing land? Remember, in cases involving marginal land, the cost of some management tools may exceed the potential return.

2. If youíre committed to doing something, how much spurge do you have? Where are your infestations located? Are they contained to a few small patches, or do you have entire pastures infested? Knowing the level of infestation will help determine which tools or combination of tools are most likely to work in your situation.

2a. Do you have minimal infestations, such as small 1-2 acre patches scattered here and there? If so, depending upon other environmental factors (e.g., water, trees), herbicides will likely be the best most effective, affordable and quickest tool for containing and controlling infestations.

2b. Do you have a lot of spurge – i.e., numerous large patches and/or widespread infestations? If so, herbicides will likely cost more than the benefits returned, and other management tools will need to be considered as the cornerstone of your management program. If the scale of infestations rules out herbicides, itís time to consider the next most logical management options, biological control and multi-species grazing.

3. Leafy spurge flea beetles can usually be obtained for free, and do not require large investments of time or money. Simply put, there is no valid economic reason for not trying biological control. Flea beetles wonít work every time in every situation, but should ALWAYS be considered as part of your management plan. If flea beetles do not solve the problem, or are not solving the problem as quickly as youíd like, other options should be considered. Before abandoning flea beetles, however, make sure youíre picking good release sites, releasing at the right time of year, etc. Also, keep in mind that flea beetles can often be used in combination with other tools to enhance control.

4. The next option is to evaluate whether multi-species grazing can or will be economical for your operation. There are three likely ways to incorporate multispecies grazing on your rangeland; all three have advantages and disadvantages, and different economic ramifications. Thereís one common denominator – existing cattle fences will need to be modified to hold sheep.

The first two options are the best from the standpoint of labor needed and the potential for economical control.

– Find a sheep producer who will provide free sheep for summer grazing. Remember, heís getting free forage for his sheep, so this is a win-win situation for both parties.

– If you canít find & quot;free" sheep, consider renting or leasing sheep.

– Finally, if youíre interested in more than the first two options can provide and are willing to make a serious, long-term commitment, itís time to consider sheep as a permanent addition to your operation.

Letís take a closer look at these options.

" F r e e " v s . F e e
Although "free" sheep always pencil out better than fee sheep, leasing can still be economically attractive. Remember, you can break even or lose money on sheep and still come out ahead if the benefits from leafy spurge control are significant.

"Free" Sheep

This one doesnít take a lot of thought – if you can find a source of sheep or goats to graze your leafy spurge for free, youíll benefit, even after modifying existing fences.

Advantages: You donít have to manage a sheep enterprise; you get the benefits of control at minimal expense (i.e., what you- 10 - spend on fencing); itís economically advantageous to both you and the sheep producer; low labor and capital requirements.

Disadvantages:Youíll need a formal agreement with a sheep producer to guarantee access to sheep for several years. This helps ensure that youíll have longterm access to sheep after investing in fence modifications. Things to consider in such an agreement include, but are not limited to, timing and length of seasonal grazing, number of sheep needed, and the number of years involved. Responsibilities – i.e., water access, predator control, transportation to/from range, etc. – should be spelled out.

"Fee" Sheep

Can you lease sheep or goats to graze your leafy spurge?

This one requires more thought since youíre paying for the use of sheep or goats. A good number to start with is the break-even rental rate for sheep, which on rangeland with carrying capacities of less than 0.4 AUMs per acre is about $4/head/year (based on the cost of modifying existing fences). The break-even rental rate goes up to about $8/head/year for rangeland with carrying capacities of around 0.7 AUMs acre. Remember, fencing costs influences the break-even rental rate – the more you spend on fence, the less you can afford to pay for sheep.

Averaged out over 10 years, it looks like this:

Carrying Capacity AUMs/Acre Break-Even Rental Rate* Least-Loss Rental Rate*

*Break-even rental rate means that control costs equal treatment benefits; if you spend more, costs will likely exceed benefits. If your rate is less than the rate listed, benefits are likely to exceed costs.

*Least-loss rate means the most you could pay and still lose less than you would by doing nothing.

Advantages: You donít have to manage a sheep enterprise; itís economically advantageous to both you and the sheep producer; low labor and capital requirements.

Disadvantages: Some of the economic benefits of control are now being paid to the sheep producer. This option can still produce control benefits that will exceed treatment costs, but you need to know what you can afford to pay per animal when negotiating a rental rate. And again, some form of formal agreement will be needed to guarantee long-term access to sheep.

Permanent Sheep

If youíre interested in multi-species grazing but want more than the free sheep or leased sheep scenarios can provide, AND if you are willing to make a long-term commitment, youíre now to the point of considering sheep as a permanent addition to your operation. This is obviously the most complicated of the three scenarios, and as such, requires careful consideration and planning. First off, letís consider some of the advantages and disadvantages of adding sheep as a permanent component of your grazing operation.

Advantages: You control all aspects of sheep grazing and flock management; the sheep enterprise itself can return positive net returns, thereby enhancing yourreturns from leafy spurge control and/or adding to the profitability of your ranching operation.

Disadvantages: Requires careful planning and organization; requires substantial time commitment; requires up-front investmentin breeding stock, facilities and equipment.

Itís important to get advice from professionals when considering this option (see the list of contacts on the back page of this manual). Sheep/livestock production specialists and other experts can help you develop a management plan that works for your specific situation. Much of this preliminary work will focus on estimating the financial performance of your operation by evaluating your existing resources, management plan, flock proficiency (lambing rate, death loss, etc.), livestock prices and anticipated production costs.

Research Required
Sheep as a permanent addition to your operation is the most complicated multi-species grazing option, and as such, requires careful consideration before making a long-term commitment. Youíll probably want to consult with local experts.

The following discussion will help you start thinking about the kinds of things you need to consider.

One last note: Before we start gathering information and wrestling with all the things to consider, it is important to realize the bottom line or net result of adding a sheep enterprise will be different for each operator. Thatís why itís difficult to predict results or provide precise economic figures for your operation. And remember, your sheep enterprise doesnít have to turn a profit or have positive net revenues for you to get economical leafy spurge control.

Before you consult with a sheep production specialist, letís try to gather some of the information that will be needed to help develop a strategy for adding a sheep component to your operation.

First, three major questions need to be addressed: Labor, facilities and feed supply.

o Labor – The bottom line is that adding another component to your operation will increase labor needs. However, with a relatively small sheep component – like what is needed for leafy spurge control – scheduling is as important as hours required. Lambing is the most labor-intensive aspect of sheep production, and youíll need to decide when and how much time you can invest. Scheduling labor needs is a balancing act:You might, for example, decide to lamb ewes before calving and spring planting, or when theyíre on pasture after calving and spring planting but before the first cutting of hay. The amount of time needed for different aspects of the new component varies based on the specific operation; general figures, however, suggest labor requirements of 3-5 hours/ewe/year, with about 40-60 percent of that time occurring during lambing.

o Facilities – Determine what facilities you already have and additional facilities that may be needed. Some of these requirements will, of course, depend on when you decide to lamb. If you opt for lambing in late January or February to avoid labor scheduling conflicts, youíll need lambing shelter; if ewes lamb on pasture, these requirements are greatly reduced. Requirements for a lambing shelter are roughly 15-20 square feet per lambing ewe, with 30-50 square feet per ewe of attached outdoor lot. Equipment is another issue. Most ranchers already have much of the equipment needed to care for sheep (i.e., livestock trailer, bailer, tractor and loader, corrals, gates, etc.). Specific needs may include a waterer and feed bunks.

o Feed – Adding sheep means additional feed requirements to consider. In general, 160-175 pounds of forage (silage, grass hay, alfalfa) is required per ewe per month when sheep are not on pasture. Exact feed requirements will vary depending upon feed quality, ewe size, etc.

This manual spends a considerable amount of time on economics. Thatís because economics is the most important aspect of evaluating multi-species grazing as an addition to your operation. Make sure it works on paper before you make any decisions.

After assessing labor, facility and feed requirements, youíre ready to consider specific management and strategic issues. And, as always, solutions to these issues will vary depending on the operation.

o Management Plan – There are as many different management plans as there are sheep producers. Some examples of the most common strategies are late winter or summer lambing, with each having different labor and facility requirements. Another consideration is figuring out how to handle your lambs. The two best options are selling them as feeders or retaining them to sell as slaughter lambs. Again, both options have different facility and labor requirements. Your best option will depend largely on the facilities you have and how much labor you can devote to the flock.

o Breed Selection – The four most common breeds in the western U.S. include the Colombia, Rambouillet, Suffolk and Hampshire.

Suffolk and Hampshire are black-faced and are primarily raised for meat production. The white-faced Colombia and Rambouillet are generally smaller than black-faced sheep, and are better wool producers. Many operations now crossbreed white-faced ewes with black-faced rams to get the benefits of both types.

o Scale of Operation – Hopefully, economies of scale (i.e., what size is best for your operation from an economic standpoint) will not be an issue, as the size of the sheep enterprise should closely match the grazing needs for leafy spurge control.

o Financial Considerations – Spend some time evaluating cash flow and capital requirements. A sheep enterprise may help with cash flow if lambs can be sold when other income is limited; conversely, adding a sheep component can complicate cash flow problems. The best scenariois to purchase breeding stock and equipment without incurring any debt, but that may not be realistic. Most sheep enterprises, especially those added to a cattle operation primarily for leafy spurge control, can handle some debt because there is no charge for existing equipment or summer grazing. Also, keep in mind that you can break even or even lose a little on the sheep and still come out ahead financially because of the benefits associated with leafy spurge control.

o Predation – Predation should ALWAYS be considered when evaluating the addition of a sheep grazing component to youroperation. For an in-depth discussion, see pages 19-20.

o Animal Husbandry – Cattle and sheep are obviously different critters, and there are some differences in handling and care. If youíre new to sheep, youíll learn with time and experience, and several options exist for obtaining additional information.

The North Dakota State University-Hettinger Research Extension Center, for example, offers a 2-day workshop for beginning sheep producers that covers many of the issues involved with day-today sheep management issues; other states offer similar programs.

See the list of contacts on page 27 for sources of additional information and educational opportunities.

Be Objective!
Some cattle producers have preconceived ideas that preclude them from seriously considering multi-species grazing. But if youíve got leafy spurge, youíve got a problem, and all potential solutions should be examined objectively.

Economic Barriers

Despite obvious benefits, some cattle producers say they just arenít interested in adding sheep or goats to their operations. The three most common barriers, according to surveys conducted by the North Dakota State University Department of Agricultural Economics, include (listed in order given):

• Lack of proper equipment and/or facilities: Most cattle ranchers feel they do not have the proper equipment – fences, shelter, water sources, etc. – to get started in sheep or goat production.

• Competition: Many ranchers feel sheep and goats compete with cattle for available forage.

• Lack of expertise: Many cattle ranchers feel they simply do not have enough knowledge about sheep/goat production to make it a viable addition to their existing cattle operations.

All are legitimate concerns, but none impose insurmountable problems, and valid counterpoints should be considered.

The expense of proper equipment, for example, becomes more economically attractive when viewed as a long-term investment and cost-averaged over a number of years. The investment should also be measured against potential longterm benefits.

Competition for forage can be minimized with proper stocking rates and range monitoring. In addition, long-term benefits gene rallyoutweigh concerns over competition: Improved range efficiency will contribute to improved range health, which leads to increased grass production, which ultimately leads to increased numbers of cattle. It is important to note that the goal, at least for many cattle producers, is using multi-species grazing to achieve an acceptable level of leafy spurge control; once achieved, sheep numbers can be reduced to maintain control while cattle numbers can be increased as range conditions improve.

The point is simple: Donít let preconceived ideas stop you from considering multi-species grazing as a component of your leafy spurge management plan.


Economic considerations will obviously be a significant factor when deciding if multi-species grazing can play a productive role in your operation. Multi-species grazing requires a long-term commitment, and will require more "hands on" management that other forms of control. If youíre not prepared to battle leafy spurge for the next five to 10 years, then implementing a multi-species grazing system may not be for you.

And keep in mind that sheep, regardless of the scenario used, do not necessarily have to be profitable to produce an economic benefit. In other words, you can lose money or break even on sheep and still come out ahead when improved range conditions, forage production and forage utilization are factored into the long-term equation.

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