Providing weed control in pastures can increase stocking rate
With feed prices on the rise and grazing land becoming more scarce, beef producers are spending more time managing the resources they have. With the summer grazing season coming closer each day, producers should analyze their pastures to determine their overall condition, and what they could do to improve them.
Improvements to grazing pastures can be very cost-effective for producers. Careful management of the grasses they have can result in more grasses available, higher stocking rates, higher weaning weights, and healthier cows. Noel Mues, extension educator with the University of Nebraska, said producers should look at their summer grazing pastures and determine the overall condition based on the grazing pressure each pasture has had in the past. “It is important to get a feel for the desirable forages that are there,” he said. “Also, look for areas where there is weed pressure and undesirable plants cropping up to determine the best approach to control them.”
Depending upon the individual situation, producers may be able to adjust their stocking rate, or graze the pasture in a rotational program to control undesirable plants and weeds. By applying timely grazing, grasses have an opportunity to build up root reserves, and produce more herbage. Native species that have become no longer abundant may also be able to reestablish themselves during the rest period.
Undesirable plants and weeds can also be managed through chemical spraying. However, producers need to use timely application and read the label directions so they don’t remove the desirable forbs and legumes along with the weeds. “There are some new herbicides available that work well on broad-spectrum weed control,” Mues said. “Products like Milestone can be used in the spring. It has a very short grazing restriction before cattle can be put in that pasture to graze,” he explained.
“There are also combination herbicides that some of our producers use, like Chaparral and ForeFront from Dow Agrosciences, that have the same active ingredient as Milestone plus some others for broad spectrum control,” he explained.
Controlling thistle, Leafy Spurge is a must Mues encourages producers with Canadian or any other type of thistle to use a chemical like Milestone. “I think it is probably one of the best chemicals we have available for controlling thistle,” he said. “But, I strongly encourage producers to look at the label before they apply it for any grazing restrictions,” he added.
Research is currently underway on a new chemical DuPont is producing that would control Leafy Spurge. “It is not on the market yet,” Mues said. “They are still testing it, but it has Aminocyclopyrachlor as its active ingredient,” he added.
In the meantime, Mues said most producers still rely on Tordon to kill Leafy Spurge. However, since Tordon is a restricted use pesticide, producers need chemical training and an applicator’s license to apply it.
Some producers have also found success controlling Leafy Spurge with goats, Mues continued. “If you plan to use goats, you will need a high concentration of animals on a small number of acres,” he explained. “You may need to fence off small areas for high intensive grazing,” he added.
Mues said producers have been fortunate that plants are still responsive to the chemicals applied to kill them. “We haven’t seen plants building up resistance to the chemicals available,” he explained. “Mostly, the plants have been very responsive to treatment.”
Mues encourages producers to develop a grazing strategy, and carefully monitor their pastures so they don’t overgraze. “When a pasture is overgrazed, weeds and other undesirable plants will invade the pasture,” he explained. “If you scout the pasture and find a weed you don’t recognize, I would encourage you to bring it to your local extension office so they can try and get it identified for you. You will want to know what it is and how to control it, before it gets out of hand,” he said.
Mues said the University of Nebraska also has specialists, Jerry Volesky and Bruce Anderson, who can help producers manage their rangeland pastures. Mues said management is important because cattle will eat the most desirable and palatable forages first. “They will eat undesirable forages if that is all that is available, but I wouldn’t recommend it,” he said. “Some plants, like a new growth of a winter annual like Downy Brome or cheatgrass, will appeal to cattle while its small,” he continued. “However, once it matures they won’t eat it anymore.”
Some undesirable plants species will never appeal to cattle. Mues said, in his area, they have Western Iron Weed, which grows in the bottomland and in draws of the pastures. “Cattle avoid it,” he said. “So, producers have to find other ways to get rid of it,” he added.