Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Using Those Weeds For Good...

For the past few months (since I began receiving "The Stockman Grassfarmer") I have been enjoying reading the "Weed Grazing" column. Grazing weeds instead of completely eliminating all weeds is something that hit my radar this past summer when I was on a pasture walk promoted by The Practical Farmers of Iowa. The host talked about one of the pasture seed mixes that he used and the fact that it included a weed (can't remember what for the life of me). Many people on the tour were surprised that he had intentionally seeded a weed, but they all did admit that they had seen their livestock eating it and even selecting it over some grasses.

I think that proves how much of a psychological thing our fight against weeds can be. Kathy Voth, in this months issue of The Stockman Grassfarmer, relates a quote from the 1934 Book of Knowledge. It said, "Agriculture is an eternal war against weeds." Also, in the book was this line about the 'only' benefit of weeds, "is that we add to our own strength by 'vanquishing these bitter foes'." Does this have to be the case?

Of course there will always be troublesome weeds that are no good and even dangerous to our livestock, but we can't paint all weeds with the same brush. Ms. Voth writes in the article that, "many weeds are as nutritious as alfalfa". During the droughts of the late 1930's the Russian Thistle weed helped sustain many small livestock farms. In California the weed distaff thistle is often green when other grasses have given up, and it's proteins can help cattle and other ruminants keep up good levels of rumen microbes.

The article talks about using a grazing management plan to help control the weeds on your land. Of course you will never completely win the battle, but with the help of your livestock you can control the battle and possibly even enhance your pasture by letting your livestock graze certain weeds that could help sustain them in a drought.

So, what weeds do you see your livestock munching on?


Rich said...

I've never heard of intentionally planting "weeds", but I have heard and dealt with ryegrass and rye that have infested wheat fields due to it spreading from areas where people have overseeded their pastures or planted wildlife food plots. Ryegrass and volunteer rye creates a big enough financial hit in the wheat fields that I would think long and hard before I planted anything that would normally be termed a weed. Think about your neighbors whenever you are considering planting anything in your pastures.

On the subject of grazing weeds, I've heard that one of the seldom thought about benefits of raising your own replacements (instead of buying them) and adopting a MiG system is that your cows learn to eat the native weeds as calves and then teach their own calves to eat the same weeds. Since your cattle utilize more of the pasture, weeds are controlled, calves gain at a higher rate, and your pastures benefit from the more uniform grazing.

tbarrett said...

I read something interesting about weeds
a couple of weeks ago. It was an article that said certain weeds helped goats fend off parasites.

Of course, now I can't remember which weeds were mentioned or where the article is (helpful, eh?). However, I did find this article just now about sericea lespedeza.

I wonder if there is any truth to it, and if it might apply to cattle?

Rich said...

At the bottom of this webpage there is a list of useful "weeds", herbs, and trees to have in your livestock pastures:

Ethan Book said...

tbarret and rich - Thanks for the links to the articles. Good stuff in those! I have read about various types of lespedeza being a good forage, but I'm not sure which ones. I don't know if that would apply to cattle as well as the goats, but it is a great bit of research!

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