Targeted Grazing of Weeds
December 4, 2012
Grassland managers are alert to the challenge of providing for the nutritional needs of grazing livestock, while simultaneously ensuring the future desirability and productivity of the vegetation communities available. It has been understood for some time that improper grazing compromises the sustainability of grassland vegetation. More recently, research and experience have demonstrated the usefulness of carefully planned and executed grazing management to restore and improve grassland landscapes. A recent issue of Rangelands magazine, a publication of the Society for Range Management, highlights the experience of several land managers who have successfully used targeted grazing for landscape improvement. Targeted grazing involves the application of the kind of grazing animal, at a specific season, for a prescribed duration and intensity to accomplish pre-determined vegetation management goal(s).
One reported use of targeted grazing was an effort to control cheatgrass in valley floors in the Loess Canyon region of Nebraska. Low-moisture protein blocks were combined with colorful surveyor flagging to provide multiple cues to attract spayed heifers to patches with dense cheatgrass concentrations. Heifers were rotated through four pastures every four to seven days and the blocks and flagging were located on new cheatgrass patches with each rotation.
Exploiting the dietary preference of goats for broadleaf and woody plants has often been suggested as a means to reduce the contribution of some undesirable pasture plants. Utilizing goat grazing for biological control has frequently provided great success. However, many beef cattle producers are reluctant to consider goats because of financial and management uncertainties. An emerging alternative, reported in the Rangelands article, depends on intentional training of beef cattle to consume weeds.
Kathy Voth has applied the research of Fred Provenza and his Utah State University colleagues to develop a training approach for cattle that has been applied successfully for a number of troublesome weed species. Kathy established Livestock for Landscapes (LivestockForLandscapes.com) to communicate her approach in 2004. Training is based on the recognition that many weedy plants can provide useful nutrition to grazing cattle if the reluctance to consume them can be overcome. By first introducing a number of novel and unfamiliar, but palatable, feedstuffs and then gradually including weed forage, cattle can be trained to include the weedy species in their diet, rather than avoiding them. Once trained, cattle will pass this modified dietary behavior on to offspring and herdmates.
Employing grazing for vegetation control often requires restricting animals to infested areas in an effort to force consumption. This strategy may compromise animal performance through reduced intake or less than adequate nutritional availability. Training cattle to consume rather than avoid weeds, particularly when weeds are immature, can actually increase the pallet of dietary options available. Increasing the "accessible herbage" in a pasture by training cattle to include weeds as a portion of their diet may be a particularly useful option as recovery from this year's drought proceeds. Training has been successfully applied to Canada, milk, musk, distaff, and Italian thistle; spotted and diffuse knapweed; Dalmatian and yellow toadflax; and black mustard.
Authors of the Rangelands article refer to the "Targeted Grazing Handbook (http://www.cnr.uidaho.edu/rx-grazing/handbook.htm)," which researchers developed to describe the principles upon which this approach to vegetation management is based. They also acknowledge the essential application of careful and observant management to particular situations in order to successfully apply grazing for vegetation management. The exchange of personal experiences of successful (and unsuccessful) applications of targeted grazing will be vital as this strategy develops. For readers who are interested in learning more, Kathy Voth will be presenting her experiences across South Dakota during the first week of December. The "Kathy Voth Road Show" is sponsored by the South Dakota Grasslands Coalition and will include the following locations and dates:
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Monday, Dec. 3 – Wooley's Western Grill, Hot Springs, SD; 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Please RSVP: Judge Jessop, 605-280-0127
Tuesday, Dec. 4 – Senior Citizen's Center, Murdo, SD; 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Please RSVP: Jewell Bork, 605-669-2222
Wednesday, Dec. 5 – AmericInn, Chamberlain, SD; 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Please RSVP: Judge Jessop, 605-280-0127
Thursday, Dec. 6 – SDSU Animal Science Building, Brookings, SD; 1 – 4 p.m. Contact: Kelly Bruns, 605-688-5452
Lunch will be served during the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday events.
Wednesday's presentation is part of the SD Grassland Coalition Annual Meeting. An additional speaker will be Sarah Sortum who will share experiences of the Switzer Ranch near Burwell, NE. As part of the Gracie Creek Landowners, they supported the first ever Nebraska Prairie Chicken Festival last April which highlighted the compatibility of ranching and grassland habitat conservation.