A pilot study was conducted to investigate the possibility of using goats to manipulate the amount and composition of indigenous and improved vegetation on hill land in the west of Scotland.
Two vegetationally similar plots, each of approximately 0·6 ha, were used. Approximately 0·45 of each plot comprised sown ryegrass-clover pasture, the remainder being indigenous vegetation (principally Calluna vulgaris, Eriophorum and Tricophorum spp. with some Deschampsia, Molinia and Carex spp.). One plot was stocked with 14 yearling Anglo-Nubian goats and the other with seven mature Blackface sheep, the total weight of livestock on the two plots being the same (500 kg).
On the reseeded areas the proportions (± s.e. of difference) of ryegrass grazed by sheep and goats after 2, 5 and 8 weeks were 0·65 and 0·11 (0·075), 0·68 and 0·42 (0·112), and 0·77 and 0·58 (0·149), respectively; corresponding values for proportional clover cover were 016 and 0·45 (0·071), 0·16 and 0·38 (0·070), and 0·10 and 0·35 (0·070), respectively. The goats also actively grazed clumps of Juncus spp. and invading indigenous species which were not eaten by sheep.
On the indigenous areas the sheep grazed a higher proportion of Calluna than did goats (0·08 and 0·05) but grazed less E. vaginatum (0·07 and 0·13), E. angustifolium (0·04 and 0·11), and other indigenous species (0·21 and 0·36), respectively. The degree of utilization of grazed indigenous species by goats was also greater than that by sheep for all species except Calluna.
The results suggest that goats may have a use in some sheep production systems as an aid to the management of the varied plant communities of hill land, and particularly in the maintenance and further improvement of reseeded pastures.