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Rancher Says “Russian Knapweed is Becoming My Favorite”

By   /  May 7, 2013  /  2 Comments

Once your livestock are eating a weed, you might find that it becomes your favorite pasture forage.

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Lance Knudsen at the Eureka, NV workshop in 2012

Lance Knudsen at the Eureka, NV workshop in 2012

Ruby Valley, Nevada Rancher Lance Knudsen isn’t afraid of trying new things.  So last year, he organized a workshop for him and his fellow ranchers to start teaching their cattle to eat weeds.  That spring, Lance taught a herd of cows to eat Russian Knapweed and White top (aka Hoary Cress in some places).  When he came to another Nevada workshop I did in March, he told us all about the great success he’d had.  He said he’d gotten 6 weeks of grazing out of the “junk” pasture that usually only gave him a week.  My favorite quote from his that day was, “If you’re not doing this, you’re really missing the boat, and it’s a big boat!”

Last summer Lance gave me a call because his haying equipment was broken and he had a minute.  He told me that weed-eating cows was going really well for him.  He taught some to eat Serviceberry this year and they are eating it well, though not going after it like some of the other weeds.  Now his cattle have also decided to eat skunk cabbage, all the thistles including musk, bull and scotch thistle, and they’re beginning to try curlycup gumweed.

Then he told me that Russian Knapweed is becoming one of his favorite forages and that “it has become a really good source of feed this year when the grass isn’t doing much.  We graze it before it seeds out and it just keeps growing.”  He said that a week to 10 days after grazing it, he has 6 to 7 inches of regrowth and he can bring the cattle back to graze it again.  He’d also noticed that as soon as they graze the buds off musk and bull thistles, the branches one level down bud out, and when those are grazed off, the level below that buds out.  ”So feed is being created as the cattle graze it,” Lance said.

He said that his success is starting to get people thinking.  ”They see the pasture and ask if I’ve sprayed it and I say, no, just grazed it before it flowers.”

What’s funniest to me about this is that when Lance picked me up and was driving me to Ruby Valley for the workshop, he told me “You’re really crazy,” when I’d look at a weedy pasture and tell him how great it was.  I guess my craziness is catching, because Lance seems to have it too now.

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About the author

editor and contributor

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

2 Comments

  1. MJMcEvoy says:

    I agree that this is a good method of invasive “weed” control, but what sort of native vegetation recovery is present with this method?

    • Kathy Voth says:

      It will depend on the rancher’s overall management of his pastures. The initial change will be reduced pressure on other forages, giving them an opportunity to grow or rebound that they might not otherwise have had. But that would have to be combined with timing grazing and use as well.

      I actually just finished a project where we used educated cows, timing and fencing to see what changes we could make to a heavily weed infested pasture. Our goal was to increase native forbs and grasses and reduce weed populations. I’ll be sharing that information in coming issues.

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