For the Love of Goats
Worms in goats are a common problem, and resistance to chemical dewormers is growing. Would you like to have an all-natural feed for your goats that was scientifically proven to kill intestinal worms, coccidia, and even housefly larvae in the goat manure? What if that food was also non-bloating and reduced the somatic cell count of milking does? Sericea lespedeza does all of that!
Today I’m talking to Tom Terrill, Ph.D., of Fort Valley State University in Georgia, an animal science professor and researcher who has studied sericea lespedeza for more than a decade. Dr. Terrill talks about how to incorporate lespedeza into your goats’ diet as forage, as pellets, or as hay. He also provides tips on planting and growing, as well as harvesting lespedeza hay.
Here is a fact sheet about sericea lespedeza authored by Dr. Terrill. Want more to read? Here are more than two dozen other studies and articles about sericea lespedeza, most of which were written by or co-authored by Dr. Terrill.
In the podcast we also talk about all of the incredible research you can find on parasite control at Wormx.info, which is the official website of the American Consortium of Small Ruminant Parasite Control.
Some varieties of lespedeza grow wild in the eastern half of the United States and other parts of the world. However, if you aren’t lucky enough to have it growing wild on your farm, you can buy seeds and plant it in your pasture or hay field. To purchase the AU Grazer lespedeza seeds or pellets, you can contact Sims Brothers.
We also talked about a farmer who sells lespedeza hay in South Carolina. Reed Edwards can be reached at 864-871-2575.
Tips for using sericea lespedeza to control parasites in your goats and sheep
- Feed as 25% or more of the diet
- For control of coccidia or barber pole worm, begin feeding at least two weeks prior to periods of stress, and continue to feed for at least six weeks afterwards
- Susceptible animals include kids at weaning and does that have recently given birth
This map, courtesy of Dr. Terrill, shows where lespedeza grows throughout the world:
This episode was sponsored by GoatsGivingBirth.com, an online course that I created to help you survive kidding season without losing your mind.
You can also listen to and subscribe to my podcast on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, and TuneIn (Alexa).
For the love of goats. We are talking about everything goat, whether you’re a goat owner, a breeder, or just a fan of these wonderful creatures. We’ve got you covered. And now, here’s Deborah Niemann.
0:19 Deborah – Hello everyone and welcome back. Today’s episode we are going to be talking to Dr. Tom Terrill, a professor of animal science and a researcher at Fort Valley State University in Georgia. Today’s episode is brought to you by the online course www.goatsgivingbirth.com. Of course, I developed to help you survive kidding season without losing your mind.
0:44 Deborah – Welcome to the show. Tom, I’m really excited to have you here today to talk about sericea lespedeza, and how this can really help goat breeders. Can you tell us a little bit about what exactly it is and why goat owners should know about it?
1:04 Dr. Tom Terrill – Certainly, sericea lespedeza is a warm season perennial legume. Originally, it was introduced to the United States from China or Australasia region. And it’s been around for a little over 100 years. And historically, it was used in the US for road bank stabilization and for soil conservation, it has a tendency to shed its lower leaves, and it was used for feed and for soil conservation back in the 30s and 40s. But the plant that was used at that time had rather thick stems, and was not very palatable for animals. And over the last 50 or 60 years, there’s been a breeding program at Auburn University that’s resulted in the release of a lot of newer types of lespedeza that still have high tannin content, but also have thinner stems and better tolerance degrading and that’s been one of the main things that’s the reason why I goat owners need to know about it, is we’ve done a lot of research lately in its medicinal properties for animals. And as most goat owners or sheep owners would know, one of the primary problems in producing small ruminants, is infection, like gastrointestinal nematodes and coccidia and other internal parasites. And we discovered probably about 15 years ago or so that lespedeza has a very unique type of tannin. And that gives it a very strong bioactivity against these internal parasites. And so that’s kind of we just generate a lot of interest in it as a kind of a natural way to control parasites in small ruminants. But I mean, it’s also got, you know, historically it was known as poor man’s alfalfa, because it would grow in very poor soils and acid soils and, so they had a lot of agronomic things going for, you know, previously even before they knew about the bioactivity, which was, you know, like you say, it’s a low input forage that’ll grow in most types of soils. You know, it will respond to fertilizer, but it’ll also grow in a lot of places where other legumes don’t grow. You know, like in Georgia, we have an acid subplane and, and the roots of lespedeza grow right through it. And so it’s, it becomes very drought tolerant, and once it gets established, and so it’s, it’s got a lot of agronomic things going forward. But, but recently, we’ve had quite a bit of activity or research dedicated to this to the medicinal properties. And my main work here has been with looking at its activity against haemonchus contortus, which is a bloodworm which is the primary parasite that affects small ruminants throughout most of US and also coccidia and it’s extremely high activity against them and the very first study we did with it the hay, it killed close to 70% of female haemonchus which are the ones that lay all the eggs. And then in the with a coccidia study we did it reduced osis counts by over 90% within a week and so it’s really generated a question and a bit of interest for that alone, but then there are some other things that it does bioactivity wise and it reduces methane production in the rumen. And so it’s good for greenhouse gases. And also, interestingly enough, it actually kills housefly, larvae in manure. And so the others, we’re still figuring out some of the other things that it’s good for, of course, it’s also a non bloating, forage.
5:27 Deborah – That’s awesome. So are there places that it grows wild? Or does somebody have to plant this if they want it on their farm?
5:36 Dr. Tom Terrill – It’s back in the, probably the 30s and 40s, USDA, you know, it was really an important forage for soil conservation. And so it was planted, they’re given seeds out, you know, all over the eastern US. And so it’s actually growing wild, basically, on roadsides, and in a lot of places, it’s actually considered some of the midwestern states it’s considered a noxious weed, but this was the older common type of lespedeza, because it is such a good seed producer. But the types that are available now, like a grazer, and some of the ones are thinner stems and grazing tolerance and so forth don’t have that invasive quality that and so there. But yes, it is growing. You know, if you’re driving along a country road in Georgia, I’m sure you’ll have lespedeza growing, and throughout much of the southeast.
6:38 Deborah – Okay. And so if somebody doesn’t have it growing wild on their farm, is it difficult to plant? Like, do you have to need an inoculant? Do you need to take a coffee can into your field and do frost seeding or how do you get it going on your farm?
6:55 Dr. Tom Terrill – What we recommend is a very tiny seed. And so we recommend first that you get a good certified seed. And I can give you the name of the company that sells the seed. It’s AU Grazer, the main one that’s sold now for pasture and for hay. Some of the older types of ones that were called interstate 76, and Sarala. And a few that came out in the 60s and 70s are still used for road bank stabilization and mine soil reclamation and things like that. But if you want to use it as a feed, I would recommend a company called Sims Brothers Incorporated in Union Springs, Alabama, I can give you their contact information at some point but they’re the exclusive producers of this AU Grazer. They do sell it to other companies that resell it, but they’ll also ship it directly to whoever. They shipped all over the US or even overseas. But as far as planting it, normally it’s a warm season legume. And so it’s planted in the spring after the final problem with frost has passed. And so what we recommend is that you have a well-prepared seedbed and you kind of smooth it out and then it’s ideal to use a culture packer seeder or you can just broadcast it and then run over it with a culture packer. Really, the key is to keep it no deeper than a quarter of an inch, you know because it’s such a small seed that it’s just too deep and then it may not be able to make it to the surface before it runs out of reserves or whatever and so that’s really the biggest challenge is getting it established. And you know there has been some work that it’s probably the optimum temperature for it to germinate is 20 to 30 degrees Celsius, which is kind of later in the spring. But then if you don’t have rain then you’d have some problems and so what we recommend is just kind of wait till maybe around April. It depends on where you are, you know, further south, you can plant it earlier. What you want to be past the time when you get heavy frost and down into the 20s Fahrenheit basically. If it’s frosted it’ll go dormant and you know it normally goes dormant for the wintertime. But you do need to use an inoculant, you know I mean if you just went out and planted it would come up and do pretty well. But inoculants are a very cheap type of insurance. It’s a cowpea type inoculant. It’s very common. And so it’s not hard to, you know, it’s like you say, it’s always a good idea with these legumes to use some sort of a little inoculant with them. And this, you know, it’s really good, you know, one of the farmers that just gave a talk here, he’s a very good farmer from South Carolina. But he was telling us how he does it is, he just makes a sticky concoction of sugar water, like a cup of sugar, four cups of water, and then mixes, which is an inoculant, and then mixes it with a seed, and then lets it dry for a little while, and then puts it in his seeder box and, and works quite well.
10:48 Deborah – Oh, okay, that doesn’t sound too complicated.
10:52 Dr. Tom Terrill – No, it’s really not. And even if you don’t inoculate at all, I’m sure you still get a pretty good stand, because the inoculant seems to be a very common thing in most of the soils, but it is slow to germinate. And so we kind of, we normally recommend, depending on rainfall, and so forth, not to cut it for hay or graze it during the establishment year. And just let it kind of set seed in the fall. And then when it frosts, that seed will fall to the ground and you’ll have kind of a seed bank for the following years and, it usually thickens up and, as long as you have a pretty good stand the first year, it’ll usually thicken up very much by the second year, and you’ll have a very good stand. And you’ll be able to jump right off the ground, and you’ll have a good stand the first year and then you can graze it or cut it for hay that first year. But we tend to advise against that, because you know, it’s a long term investment kind of plant. I mean, you know, some of the plants that are growing along the roadsides have been there 50 years, and it’ll stay where you’ve planted. And so to get through the winter, depending on how far north you are. And I know y’all are a little bit further north up in Illinois. It needs to have, you know, your last cutting of hay or grazing, whatever should be stopped sometime around the middle of August, something like that. Or, you know, down this way, we could get a cutting of hay around Labor Day, but then leave it alone so that it can
regrow enough to put some energy into the roots so it can get through the wintertime.
12:51 Deborah – So if you can’t grow it yourself, you know, maybe you live too far north or something, then is it I understand that they make leaf meal and pellets and stuff like that.
13:06 Dr. Tom Terrill – They do. Again, this Sims Brothers actually produces the pellets, and they’ve been making leaf meal, these leaf meal pellets for quite a few years. And they sell you know, they ship that all over as well. And so they’re a great source for the seeds, and the pellets. Then individual farmers we’re really trying to get more farmers interested in selling it as hay. You know, this farmer in South Carolina, he’s been really pushing the quality of Lespedeza hay and because of its anti-parasitic value, he gets more for his Lespedeza hay than he does for his alfalfa hay. I think he sells his Lespedeza hay for $15, a square bale or something and alfalfa for $10 a square bales and mostly to the small ruminant people, because they’re, they’re the ones that really need it for the anti-parasitic effects and
14:08 Deborah – How do goats like Lespedeza? Do they eat it pretty readily?
14:12 Dr. Tom Terrill – They do even cattle and sheep and goats all like it as hay. Goats eat it straightaway as pasture. Sheep take a little bit of time to get used to the tannin content. It kind of gives a sticky taste in their mouth, but goats don’t seem to mind that. And so they’ll graze it right away. They’ll eat it as hay, they’ll eat it as a salad. You know, there’s really been no problem at all with palatability, particularly with the hay or the pellets.
14:47 Deborah – Okay. And is it good for all animals like bucks, pregnant does, nursing kids?
14:54 Dr. Tom Terrill – It is and you know what, what we say as far as feeding it, you know, a lot of our work lately has been on trying to deal with parasites. And so we’re, you know, we recommend feeding it to animals around the time when they’re under the highest stress, such as at weaning time with kids or, you know, during parturition, you know, and for an early lactation, you know, whenever the does are under stress, that’s normally when they’re most susceptible to parasites. And particularly with kids, that’s when they usually have coccidia outbreaks. We did a study with kids that we got from South Georgia, where we took them directly from the mother and put them directly on a truck and then started a trial, which really increased their stress. And the group that had not been given Lespedeza, their coccidia just went crazy, and went up to 40,000 oocysts per gram of feces, whatever in a week. And the Lespedeza actually went down. I mean, it was just, you know, didn’t go up at all. And so it’s really had a remarkable effect on, I don’t know if that’s due to stress relief or what it was, but, but it certainly had a very strong effect, positive effect of reducing coccidia. And we’ve seen that with both goats and sheep. And of course, there’s potential for other animals, we haven’t tested that yet. But we’ve seen it, we’re seeing very similar things with the periparturient rise with sheep, you can actually suppress that by treating them with Lespedeza. We recommend feeding at least about 25% of the diet of Lespedeza, and maybe up to about 50%. And that’s, that should be enough to give their anti-parasitic effect. And then, but we recommend starting feeding and maybe two weeks before you expect the stressful event, and then at least up to six to eight weeks afterwards. And so your Lespedeza, in general has, it’s not quite as high protein as alfalfa and a few others, but it’s, it’s a very good feed for certainly older animals. And it’s very good for younger animals during times of stress, you know that as they get past that and they start to grow, and they need really high quality feed, then you can start to switch them to a different feed maybe after six to eight weeks or whatever. And that’s when, when they’re past the really challenging time for parasites. So it doesn’t hurt bucks, you know, that the question that you’d had earlier about calcium and so forth, but you know, I think a key with Lespedeza, and same with alfalfa or anything else is that it doesn’t need to be 100% of that. It just needs to be a component of the diet, and they’ve never had any issues with that, you know, when we keep it, you know, we fed it up to 75% of the diet and never seen any issues with too much calcium or anything else. And so I really don’t think it’ll be a problem at all actually, with I think the issues you might have as if you’re, if you’re grazing it, it’ll take a while if you have sheep, take a while for them to get used to it. And then they’ll, you know, have farmers in South Africa and other places that graze it all the time with cattle and sheep. And once they learn to graze it, and then you know, they come back to it very quickly. And yeah, just takes a little while but goats don’t seem to have that issue.
19:01 Deborah – I’ve read that you shouldn’t feed it to kids for more than about eight weeks. Why is that? And then once you take them off of it, when can you start feeding it to them again, like how much of a break do they need?
19:14 Dr. Tom Terrill – We started a few studies where there was after about eight to 10 weeks. There was, you know, some of the gains started dropping off. I mean, they were still gaining but they weren’t gaining as much as they were with the other diet that they were on and so that’s where that recommendation came from. And but we’ve had other farmers that have just kept them on it continuously. And you know, they’ve done very well but, you know, depending on if they’re still under a parasite challenge, I would just maybe reduce the level and take it down to 20% of the diet or and just you know, maybe keep it closer to 50 to 75% during the during the time of stress, and then just reduce it over time. Yeah, and that’s put it on to, you know, whatever your normal growing ration is. But, you know, because of his, you know, even young growing animals are still susceptible to parasites, you know, I wouldn’t take them off of it altogether. Because like I said it doesn’t, it doesn’t hurt them, it’s just gaining as you know, just a couple, we’ve had other studies where they would gain consistently for 15 weeks, or whatever the time was of the study. And we didn’t see that drop off. But the scientists were kind of being overly cautious, I think earlier. But that’s, that’s where that suggestion came from that, you know, after, I think there was some evidence to that, that certain levels of molybdenum went down after eight to 10 weeks. But we didn’t really see what effect that had and how that was related to growth or anything else. And so they still were getting adequate nutrition. And so, but that’s, that’s kind of our recommendation now is that we, that we stop it after eight to 10 weeks, or reduce it. Well, we have, you know, if you did want to take them off of it completely, and then monitor them, you know, for the parasite challenge. And then just, you know, if they’re, if they start increasing, then just put them back on it. Or that I’ve had farmers take animals that are not looking good from parasites and just put them in there and let them graze Lespedeza for two or three weeks. And they said that, you know, I don’t have scientific proof of that yet. But they said it makes it look better. And so that’s and that seems to help. And so that’s it really anything you can get into them, you know that the more generally, the more Lespedeza you get into them, the more anti-parasitic effects you’ll have. It’s just a question of, you know, where’s the balance or, you know, you may not gain as well, after a certain point. And so you have to kind of play with that a little bit. And we’re still trying to figure all that out. But I think at 25% of the diet, you would get, you still get reasonable gains, and also get some parasite control.
22:31 Deborah – Another thing I noticed in the list of benefits for livestock is that it reduces the somatic cell count in goat milk. Does that equate to a lower risk of mastitis?
22:43 Dr. Tom Terrill – It should. You know that that was a study that was done several years ago? And, you know, that’s I don’t know that that’s been widely repeated. But it obviously caught my attention, because, you know, there’s, you know, just make sense. It has a lot of antibacterial qualities. And so it seemed to have some of that, in that particular study. And that’s, I would assume, if it’s reducing mastitis-causing bacteria, that would really reduce mastitis. And so, yeah, that still needs to be proven, and probably more research done on it. But it’s, it was one of the studies that was done. And so it certainly caught my attention.
23:31 Deborah – Can you give us more information about making hay with Lespedeza?
23:35 Dr. Tom Terrill – You know, it was one of the things to remember, particularly if you’re making in the hay is that the leaves drop off, they dry very quickly. And so that’s one of the reasons it’s good for soil conservation. But if you’re wanting to feed it, you want to keep the leaves on. And so really, a key is that it will dry in about half the time it takes for other forages to dry like alfalfa. And because it’s stems are a lot thinner, Lespedeza and so it’s, and so it’s, but what we have a farmer again, this fella Reed Edwards has figured out how he does it is he if you get a couple of good drying days, they’ll cut it in the morning and then use the tedder on it while it’s still moist. The leaves don’t fall off and he lets it dry for maybe a day and a half. And then he lets it kind of re-moisten the next morning, and then he uses a little handheld moisture meter. And he says whenever the moisture normally in the morning goes down from about, you know, the humidity goes down from about 100% and then when it reaches 60% next to the bail, he said that’s about 16% dry matter, and that really preserves almost all the leaves and he’s been able to do that. Get some very high-quality Lespedeza. And that in that last picture was one of his bails on the top there. But you know, why you want to keep the leaves is that’s where most of the tannin and most of the protein is. And so from a nutritional standpoint, and from a bioactivity standpoint, the more leaves you can keep, the better it is. And so I really feel like we’re just kind of starting, you know, a lot of my research has been focused on the anti-parasitic effects. And we’re starting now to look more at the combination of, you’re trying to really push high quality, nutrition and maintain the anti-parasitic effects. And so some of these techniques that our farmers are using now to keep more of the leaves are, should really increase the value even more of this forage.
25:57 Deborah – That sounds wonderful. Is there anything else that you think goat breeders need to know about sericea lespedeza or harvesting or growing or anything,
26:08 Dr. Tom Terrill – If you can point them to our consortium website, you know it, we have a parasite Consortium, there’s a section that that worm x dot info, and under topics under there, there’s one with just everything that we’ve ever published on sericea lespedeza you know, sericea lespedeza is one of the, but there’s also a lot of other, you know, this, this whole consortium came about as to kind of combat antibiotic resistance. And so we’re, it’s really an alternative to drugs, you know, it says, you know, things like lespedeza plants and copper oxide wire particles, and just a lot of different things. And so there’s just a wealth of information on that website. And people can really find what they need.
26:56 Deborah – Yeah, I’ll definitely include that in the show notes. This has been so much fun. Being in Illinois, and not having the opportunity to grow this and not being able to find it anywhere. I don’t know, I don’t have any personal experience with it. I know, I’ve always wanted to try it. But the shipping to Illinois has been pretty outrageous. So it was been really great to be able to talk to you about this today and get more information about it from someone who’s done so much research on it already.
27:25 Dr. Tom Terrill – Absolutely. It’s been. It’s been fun to me, I just see so much potential for it. I mean, it’s, you know, and I don’t know if it’s global warming or what but soon as weather says there’s they’re seeing people further and further north in the US actually buying seed and coming back for more seed. So it’s an indication that it’s, it’s doing better in some of those places. And so, you know, it may be coming to Illinois sooner than you think.
27:53 Deborah – Yeah, that would be exciting. I know, somebody in Tennessee, who had it growing wild in her pastures, and she had no parasite problems.
28:03 Dr. Tom Terrill – Right! Yeah, I hear that over and over again. And you know, the people that have it don’t seem to have the parasite problem. And so it’s just a matter of managing it to keep it young. And or cutting it for hay, yeah, and that’s it. Because even as one of the challenges when you cut lespedeza for hay, is it doesn’t bloom, so you have to go based on the height. And so it’s, you know, you don’t want it to get above, maybe, you know, 20-24 inches tall, because then it starts to get to woody. And you know, that’s, and so if at all possible, you kind of below that, but even then, if it gets to 30 inches tall, or whatever, the top 18 inches or whatever, are still supple and, and high quality. And so you can still get a, you know, the leaf, the leaf doesn’t change much. And so you can even if you cur it then and fed it to animals, and if they could pick through and get the leaves, they still get good quality hay. And so anyway, there’s a lot left to be done. But we’re very excited about the potential, not just here, but all over the world, actually.
29:17 Deborah – Yeah, that’s really exciting. And it’s fun to see all the other places. I should put a link to your map. I should put your map also, in the show notes that people can see all the places that it grows.
29:29 Dr. Tom Terrill – Sure, yeah. I’ve been doing quite a bit of work in southern Africa, it’s really got a lot of potential for that. Like it goes extremely well in some of the acid soils in South Africa and some of the surrounding countries. Thank you for letting me do this. This has been fun.
29:49 Deborah – Yeah, thank you. We’ll have to chat again. So I know you’ve done a lot of research on other stuff as well. So maybe we’ll come back on some time and talk about one of those other topics.
29:59 Dr. Tom Terrill – Absolutely. If you check out that website, you can see all the different things that our consortium has been working on. And so there’s quite a bit of information.
30:09 Deborah – Oh, yeah, I love that website. All right. Well, thank you so much.
30:14 Dr. Tom Terrill – Alrighty, thanks a lot.
30:17 Deborah – And that’s a wrap for this week. Be sure to join me again next week as I interview Sue Beck, the president of the Kinder Goat Breeders Association, as we talk about the joys of owning that wonderful breed of goat. Bye for now.
Subscribe to my weekly newsletter!
My weekly newsletter includes recipes and articles on homesteading, raising livestock, health, and gardening.