Tag Archives: Ragweed

Let Them Eat Weeds!

Kathy Voth, Fred Provenza, and others have long promoted letting cows eat weeds.  There are few weeds that are poisonous and unless cows are starved, they won’t eat them anyway.  Many farmers and ranchers clip or mow pastures and weeds, especially this time of year preparing the paddocks to grow for winter stockpile.

I like to mow pastures – i’ve clipped pastures with a 9-foot sickle bar mower bouncing around (sweating and burning) on a modified wide front end Farmall 460 for years.  The result is a beautifully laid down forage that allows the new growth to pop through and look like a lush lawn.  It’s a good feeling —but i now question its profitability and no longer mow.

Alan Newport recently wrote on an article (Who’s Afraid of Weeds and Brush?) on this very thing.  Greg Judy espouses the benefits of weed grazing in his books and videos.

2f588a3a-9ff4-4b15-a648-065e779c8c42-906-0000010a421befbb_file
Another example of mature forage laid down by decent grazing and trampling pressure.
61270fe2-6838-4176-a00f-328952336808-906-00000109b8f5555d_file
This photo is just terrible, but it shows on the left the cows have eaten even Kansas (lanceleaf) ragweed.  The right side of the fence has yet to be grazed.
9d996d51-76f8-4d54-92eb-8b3463c025cc-906-00000107f3993d89_file
Well rested tall grass nicely laid down by trampling and eating.
ebf1af1d-25f8-4de9-9d0d-77a757001623-906-00000107dba49c3d_file
If my cows are getting this much grazing out of ragweed, i don’t see much point in mowing it except to lay down those stalks for better microbe use.  But can i afford to own and run a tractor to mow it?  What is left here, the cows will snarf it down once it’s dried down this winter.
IMG-6115
This is a thorny locust tree sprout practically stripped by my cows and calves.  I’ve owned sheep and they do a good job as well, but not any better than my cows.

Who’s afraid of weeds and brush?

In the right system, cattle grazing under ultra-high stock density will eat most “problem” plants and thrive doing it.

Alan Newport | Jun 05, 2019

Over the past year I have been grazing beef cattle at high stock density, and at times at ultra-high stock density grazing (UHDG), and I am regularly amazed at the things they eat.

A few examples are: Most of the leaves from buck brush (aka Indian currant), almost all the leaves they can reach from most trees, the top half or more of sericea lespedeza, a fair bit of ironweed and most ragweeds, and at least the top half of goldenrod. In fact, they clean up or at least take part of nearly everything in their environment. And they do it by choice. These plants are sometimes the first things grazed, sometimes the last things grazed, and sometimes taken in the middle of the grazing period. In other words, they are not eaten in desperation or starvation.

I’m sure some of you are asking what qualifies as UHDG. Johann Zietsman, the Namibian rancher and consultant who pioneered UHDG back in the 1990s, says a stock density of 1,000 to 2,000 animals per hectare. If we consider that one hectare is 2.47 acres and that Zietsman and his “disciples” typically run cows that weigh closer to 700 pounds than the 1,500-pound average for modern cattle, this helps us figure out a stock density of maybe 283,000 to 567,000 pounds of stock per acre — or higher. This generally matches my own definition that UHDG starts somewhere around 250,000 pounds per acre, while high stock density or very high stock density probably runs from 60,000 to 250,000 pounds per acre.

Anyway, last night my wife and I turned the cows into a really small paddock with tall and dense forage, in which I’d estimate from past experience they were grazing at well over 500,000 pounds of stock density. The little calves and the cows were all eating almost everything in there. There were still some cheatgrasses, some bermudagrass, a smattering of other warm- and cool-season grasses, and quite a bit of both lambsquarter (pigweed) and giant ragweed of the knee-high to thigh-high variety. They took it all out. It appeared to me each animal was eating a little bit of everything, switching from one plant type to another as they grazed. It’s pretty much what I’ve seen time and again under UHDG or even high stock density.

These are the same results I’m hearing from people all over the globe, on every continent. All are connected through Zietsman’s website and app-based discussion groups he runs. Their pictures and comments they share from their own ranches tell me volumes.

I’ll remind you the first goal of this type management is maximum sustainable profit per acre, which actually incorporates inseparably the goal of land improvement with beef production.

However, an advantage of this type management that has occurred to me lately is the reduced need for goats and sheep to eat the things cattle normally won’t eat. Maybe a little work by goats will be needed at times, but the cattle graze and browse almost all the plants. (Cedars and full-sized trees, of course, will require other control methods.)

Further, as I watch cattle of all ages graze/browse every imaginable kind of plant, I can only imagine what kind of quality they are building into their bodies, therefore their meat and milk.  Even calves like fresh tree leaves that haven’t been exposed to grazing, therefore haven’t built up high tannins.

A few weeks ago, I published a blog about the importance of secondary and tertiary compounds in the quality and healthfulness of beef and other meats. It was called Here’s how grassfed beef really could be superior. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you do so. Fred Provenza and others recently published a great paper on the importance of these compounds particularly to humans eating meats from animals adapted to diverse, native habitats.

So, besides achieving the highest sustainable stocking rate, the fastest rate of soil and rangeland improvement, and the highest potential profit in a cow-calf operation, you’re also getting the best weed and brush control possible with cattle and the greatest consumption of plants providing a wide variety of nutritional benefits. And by the way, once they learn to eat these plants they will continue eating many of them even when grazing at lower stocking densities.

The caveat is that conventional cattle of today are very poor at this job. They have been bred to graze selectively under continuous grazing and generally to receive large amounts of hay and supplement through large portions of the year. We need to breed cattle suited to this task.

And incidentally, they will have good carcass quality because any beef animal that can thrive under this kind of grazing, laying on fat for winter survival, then fattening in the spring on green grass for calving and reproduction. Any animal that can get fat on grass has great potential to produce a quality carcass, and the US Meat Animal Research Center carcass data on the African Sanga breeds, as well as other testing, has indicated this is true.

The innovators and early adopters of grazing management and now cattle breeding are leading the way. I’m watching.

Annuals Scheme – Final Analysis

Today marked the last day of my experiment with rotatilling, pneumatic drilling/harrowing, and grazing annuals as part of a pasture improvement scheme.

Grazing comparison data is as follows:

2013-2014 – Paddock 22 – 3218 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1871 lbs  Total:  5089 lbs

2014-2015 – Paddock 22 – 3567 lbs, Paddock 23 – 2007 lbs  Total:  5574 lbs

2015-2016 – Paddock 22 – 2072 lbs, Paddock 23 – 1222 lbs  Total:  3294 lbs

2016-2017 – lost all my records

2017-2018 – Paddock 22 – 1547 lbs, Paddock 23 – 695 lbs    Total: 2242 lbs

As you can imagine, i was shocked at the lack of grazing days provided by the annuals, but this was my first experience.  When i turned them in on the annuals, the cows and calves grazed it all down in four days!  In a few days, i was able to turn them back in for a couple more days grazing to boost that yield just a bit.  However, at this point, the paddocks will take a very long rest.  One thing i did not observe and record in previous years and that is cow condition.  At least for this year, these cows were slick and shiny healthy coming off the annuals, but they were that way going in, too.  So…..

So, in a nutshell, it cost me a total of $1842.12 to plant 18 acres of annuals for grazing.  The purpose of annuals to help rejuvenate the soil microbe community and not necessarily for gain in grazing.  Good thing, because it certainly failed in that department.  However, as i had written before, the goal is to eradicate toxic fescue and build organic matter.  It does look like that has happened at least in short term.  It is very hard to measure long term benefits.   However, from this point, i’m planning to tack the sail and switch to tilling then no-till a permanent ley (grassland).  Whether or not that will work remains to be seen, but i’m keen to find a way to reduce then eliminate any tractor work.  I hope to get that scheme underway and perhaps even completed this week.  This new scheme, although i do plan to till before planting to permanent ley, will provide a side by side comparison of planting annuals first vs planting permanent pasture once and done.  There will be a few spots, too, that won’t be tilled and seeds will be drilled straight into established pasture.

image
I drive through the annuals with my Gator to make it easier to set up a polybraid fence through it.
image
Grazed part next to ungrazed annuals.  That tall stuff still standing in common ragweed.
image
My ground is very poor in most areas and this is all it will grow in a 65 day period of the annuals.

 

image
This is along the fence line (see fence on the left).  What a difference in where i tilled and planted vs undisturbed.  The ubiquitous Kansas ragweed (lanceleaf) is still thriving where it is undisturbed.

 

image
Those cows didn’t waste any.  They really, really enjoyed eating the succulent annuals and snarfed down the volunteer yellow foxtail.  The stalks are trampled nicely.
image
This is a close up of the left behind common ragweed.  That step in post is 36 inches tall.
image
A closer look at the Kansas (lanceleaf) ragweed in undisturbed soil.  Same step in post.
image
Larger area shown here of what is left of the annuals after grazing.

Additional thoughts and observations:

Grazing days – 4 days on 18 acres with 146 cows, 110 calves, and 6 bulls

Labor – setting up and taking down polybraid – two strips – 3 hours.

There is general concern that the annuals need to be stripped off for best utilisation because of the assumption that the cows will destroy too much of the forages.  However, my experience is that there was very little waste overall and certainly not enough to justify 3 hours of labor in stripping off small sections.  Having said that, i have to quantify that one strip allowed access to only 4 1/2 acres, then 5 acres, then about 8 1/2 acres.  Perhaps larger sections would have shown more waste.

If conditions allowed less work setting up and taking down and one had more valuable annuals, then it may be better to take advantage of the benefits of strip grazing.

Post grazing observations:

  1. where the soil was tilled and planted with annuals, the Kansas ragweed did not grow, but giant ragweed was there, though, far from as thick as an untilled/unplanted paddock.
  2. Trampling of annuals was negligible – nearly all had been eaten with the exception of a few sunflower plants.
  3. The pneumatic harrow needs a work over since there were a lot of skips in seed application.  Thankfully, the yellow foxtail proliferated thickly in the tilled soil to keep the soil covered.  Actually better than the annuals and the cows loved it.

Cows on the Annuals

It’s been a rather busy and momentous month, so i’m way behind on reporting on the annuals for grazing and pasture improvement project.  Here are photos of growth at 60 days.  Turned the cows in on August 1, 2017.  Yah willing, my final report will be coming soon.  It will take some number crunching and analysis, so will be several days, but i’m ready to put paid to this project.

imageimage

image
Comparison of untilled along fence with worked and planted soil.

 

image
This is the most ground cover this paddock has ever produced in my lifetime!

 

image
Nice crop of yellow foxtail – cattle ate it literally to the ground.  They loved it!

 

image
This is volunteer yellow foxtail as identified by our county extension agent.  Despite being a ‘weed’, this forage is exceptionally palatable with excellent nutritional value. 
image
In some places, my soil is so poor, that this is all that has grown for 60 days.  We’ve had excellent rainfall amounts.

 

image
Sunflowers, buckwheat, and quite a mix, but very short for 60 days of growth.  However, where this is growing, there doesn’t seem to be any ironweed growing.  Another plus.

 

image
Weak soil readily visible in this photo.  How can soil be so abused?!  Was it always like this?  or did this happen because of decades of row cropping back in the mid 1900’s?

 

image
Where there is no tillage, Kansas (lanceleaf) ragweed is making its annual appearance.  In the background, one can see the skips in seeding.  This is due to the pneumatic seeder getting plugged far too often.

 

 

image
Cows and calves grazing annuals.  in the middle of the photo, one can see where i didn’t till because of a small ditch.  I was concerned about erosion, but that wasn’t an issue this year.  Wishing i had tilled right on through them. Live and learn.

 

 

Stuck In the House

What does a woman do when she is stuck inside due to extreme ragweed allergies!?  It is frustrating because the weather is starting to cool off and there is always SO much to be done outside.  Fences need repair, brush needs cutting, barns cleaned out, livestock needs shifting to new paddocks…… the list is endless.  Up until this year, youngest son, Nathan, would do my basic chores (shifting livestock, checking water) from mid-August to mid-October, but he is off to uni this fall, so the task has fallen to Rick, our new hand whom we hope stays on to become manager – he is certainly capable.  So, while I’m grateful,it’s frustrating as well.

So, after spending most of last week at my farm in south Missouri (Dallas and I were hoping our allergies would be somewhat alleviated, and surprisingly for me, i did find some relief, not so much for Dallas) and redesigning and setting up the working corral and trampling through a ‘jungle’ of a small timber patch to string out some polywire in preparation for fencing it off this winter and we started tearing out an old house, but wrong time of the year for that – i got stung on my upper lip just straight away.  OUCH!  brought tears to my eyes!

monday 002
Built up dust on the leading edges of ceiling fan blades.

This week, we are back home, so my major goal is to ‘fall’ clean the house.  Spiders have built webs in every nook and cranny inside and out, so lots of vacuuming and dusting.  Of course, I vacuum all the furniture; under and around the arms and cushions, and turn them over to vacuum the dirt and dust from underneath.  Cobwebs in the corners, from ceiling to walls, and walls to floors.  Climbing a ladder to wash off the center and blades of our two ceiling fans and dusting the leaves of our one inside plant.  Dusting the tops and back of wall photos and pictures, top of furniture, and all the wooden trim and doors.  And definitely under the floor grates which cover the return air ducts.

Cobwebs everywhere!
Cobwebs everywhere!

One tip I learnt as a travel consultant when on Fams and checking hotel rooms, was to run your finger along the top of doors and/or shower rods.  If there is dust, then the room is NOT clean.

Washing windows is sort of an outdoor job, so I can only do so much of that at a time before becoming overwhelmed with allergy attack.  But i can plug away at it.

Additionally, Monday i listed a bunch of unneeded items to sell on Ebay, paid bills, and RIck and i pulled the CIDRs, administered Estrumate, applied heat detection patches, and mouthed a few of the 17 recip cows because the needed ear tags and i didn’t know how old they were.  The ear tag number starts with the year they were born.  For example, a four year old cow’s number would start with a ‘1.’  This took about an hour, so i was struggling a bit by the time i could get back into the a/c.  Took a break, then went back out to let out the cows into the pasture south of our house for observing and ran water for them.

Of course, breakfast, lunch, and supper preparations are everyday.

Froze up a couple gallons of green beans, cooked down, slipped off the skins, and froze a gallon of tomatoes.

Until tomorrow!

tauna

Climbed up in the back of my Gator to drill a hole large enough for this solar lantern to fit snugly into.  When it's really dark outside, I can't even find our own driveway!  Hopefully this will help.
Climbed up in the back of my Gator to drill a hole large enough for this solar lantern to fit snugly into.  When it’s really dark outside, I can’t even find our own driveway!  Hopefully this will help.

Debilitated by ragweed allergies keeps me busy inside!

If there is any good to be had by this allergy, it is that every nook and cranny of our house is dusted, vacuumed, and scrubbed (we have hardwood floors).  Furniture is moved and wiped down from behind and underneath.  Every chair spindle and nightstand leg. Even the deep, dark recesses of the wardrobes.  Not my favourite of tasks, but a rewarding one nonetheless.   And my favourite travel agent, fam (familiarization) trip, hotel site inspect check – wipe clean the top of every door.   You know, the kind of cleaning you can’t hire anyone to do well.   Clean everything you say – then they ask, ‘do you want me to clean that?’  Quizzically, you wonder if the assignment is unclear or is it a trick question!?

Deep down cleaning beats giving the tops a quick swipe at least twice a year.   However, the windows – the outside anyway – cannot be washed because letting outside air, heavy with the yellow dust of ragweed pollen, will set me off with non-stop sneezing, wheezing, itching skin, eyes, ears, watering red eyes, scratchy throat, and, in some cases, difficulty in breathing, resulting in not being able to talk for several hours.   Being inside with air conditioning is my only relief with Benadryl able to manage only the mildest attack, which may occur when i’m inside.

Some people fortunate enough to find natural ‘cures’ for their seasonal allergies have willingly shared their findings  and though I try most,  unfortunately,  none have put the slam-dunk on my nemesis. I’m headed next week to another allergist for consultation and prick testing; perhaps this time a magic potion can be developed for me.  What kinds of allergies, if any, do you have, and what works to control them!?