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Teaching Cows to Eat Weeds – A Farmer’s Perspective

By   /  January 18, 2016  /  2 Comments

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Don and Betty Ashford visited us at the On Pasture booth at the National Conference on Grazing Lands in Grapevine, Texas.

Don and Betty Ashford visited us at the On Pasture booth at the National Conference on Grazing Lands in Grapevine, Texas.

Editors’ Note: Don and Betty Ashford of Ethel, Louisiana shared their experience teaching cows to eat weeds as part of Kathy Voth’s presentation at December’s National Conference on Grazing Lands. For those of your who couldn’t be there, here’s a little bit more about how it worked for them.

This project involved 12 grown cows, 11 calves, 1 steer and 1 bull. We used 14 training tubs with space between them to ensure that there would be a chance for all of the animals to get an opportunity to taste what was in the tubs. We moved our cattle from pasture to pasture for our normal Management-intensive Grazing routine. The only difference was the tubs, and this worked in our favor because it was something different that attracted the cattle. We used one 50-pound bag of feed for each training feeding.

Day 1 – Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Our cattle in pasture with their training tubs.

Our cattle in pasture with their training tubs.

Morning – Sweet Feed
On this first morning we took the easy way and put the tubs and feed out before we turned the cattle into the paddock. The thought to use the sweet feed first was that most older cattle had come in contact with sweet feed at some point in their lives. This proved to be the case as most of the grown cattle, bull included, went to the tubs. The calves walked past the tubs without so much as a look and began to graze. After a few minutes they started to get curious and started to check out the tubs to see just what was so interesting for the grown cows.

Afternoon – Race Horse Oats
This was something entirely different for some of the grown cows but it didn’t take but a few minutes for them to try it and they liked it. It is very easy to pick out the cows that have been fed. They will follow the sack and try to get ahead of the other cows. It seems that the calves are more interested in what the grown cows are doing rather than what is in the tubs, but some are beginning to check out the tubs.

Day 2 – Thursday, September 18, 2014

Moving them from pasture to pasture as we did the training was easy.

Moving them from pasture to pasture as we did the training was easy.

Morning – Cracked Corn
It is not hard to understand just how easy it is for cattle to become dependent on the feed sack.

Afternoon feeding – Range cubes
This feed gave the cattle more trouble than anything we have offered them. But, as with everything so far, they figured it out and cleaned out the tubs.

Day 3 – Friday, September 19, 2014

Morning – Alfalfa Pellets
The cattle were really confused by these little pellets but as before, they soon figured it out and with a little effort the tubs were cleaned.

Afternoon – Rice Bran
This finely ground stuff created another challenge but with much blowing and snorting it was consumed as everything has been so far.

Calf checking out the training tub.

Calf checking out the training tub.

Day 4 – Saturday September 20, 2014

Morning – Receiving Ration
This feed is just what the name implies. It is used on cattle leaving a pasture situation and going into a feeding one. It contains a lot of cotton seed hulls and ground corn and molasses and it does in fact smell good enough to eat. The cows really like it and the calves too more interested in it than any feed that we have put out. The calves are taking a real interest in the feed.

Afternoon – Crimped Oats
By now the cattle are looking for us and it doesn’t seem to matter what we put in the tubs, they will eat it.

Day 5 – Sunday, September 21,2014

Chamberbitterweed ( ) also known as Mimosa weed.

Chamberbitterweed (Phyllanthus urinaria) also known as Mimosa weed.

Afternoon – Wheat Bran and weeds
The morning feeding is discontinued and the weeds are introduced. Our weed is chamberbitter or mimosa weed. The chamberbitter is cut and put in the tubs with the wheat bran sprinkled on top. The tubs were cleaned of all of the weeds but not all of the cows ate weeds.

Day 6 – Monday September 22, 2o14

Afternoon – Wheat Bran and Weeds

More weeds and less wheat bran than the day before. The tubs were cleaned even though the amount of weeds was increased and the amount of bran was reduced.

Day 7 – Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Kathy was here today and was very pleased with what we had accomplished. She really became excited when she saw some of the cattle eating horse nettle. It was decided that the cattle had learned to eat the chamberbitter and it was very easy to see that this was true because in some of the parts of the paddock where it was 4-6 inches deep it had been grazed to the ground. Kathy then suggested that rather than put more chamber bitter in the tubs we would load them with horsenettle. The tubs were sprinkled with a very small amount of molasses and then filled with the horsenettle. (Read more about grazing horsenettle here.)

Day 8 – Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Here are the folks who came to learn more about teaching their cows to graze on the weeds in their pastures. Alan DeRamus, University of Louisiana, Layfayette, organized this project and workshop.

Here are the folks who came to learn more about teaching their cows to graze on the weeds in their pastures. Alan DeRamus, University of Louisiana, Layfayette, organized this project and workshop.

The Gathering
The weather was great and the turnout was good – about 20 people. Yesterday Kathy spent the morning and early afternoon here and we had talked about the fact that she would be doing this outside without the aid of powerpoint and all of the other technical miracles that we have come to depend on. She did a great job. Dr. DeRamus and his wife came and he was very pleased with what we had done. After Kathy had finished her presentation it was time to go to the pasture and see the final results. We were confident but nervous. Betty and I had worked with the help of my brother Dickie very long and hard on this thing and really wanted it to be a success. The horse nettle had been eaten in most of the tubs, but there were small amounts in some tubs. Kathy declared the whole venture a success and said it was some of the best results she had ever encountered. Her words: “I am thrilled.” And so were we.

Update

This fall we turned the cattle in on the ryegrass on December 8 and it was very interesting to watch them go to the turnips planted in the ryegrass before they grazed any of the ryegrass. Not sure if one had anything to do with the other but we have never seen this before teaching the cows to eat weeds. One of the results of teaching the cattle to eat weeds is that they will begin to take an interest in things growing in the pastures that were unnoticed before and will begin to eat weeds that were never tried before.

You can teach your cows to eat weeds using this simple process.  Here’s a link to resources and On Pasture articles written by Kathy to tell you what you need to know.

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About the author

My name is Don Ashford and my wife is Betty and we live in Ethel, LA. It would be impossible for me to write a bio about myself without including Betty in it. We have been together since high school. I was in the senior class of 1955 and she was in the class of 1957. Do the math. We have raised cattle since 1959 except for a little time that I spent with Uncle Sam. We have grazed stockers, owned several cow- calf herds and custom grazed cattle for other folks. I worked as a pipefitter for more than 25 years. Until we went into the dairy business in 1977 we were as most people down here part-timers or week-end ranchers. Later after we had learned enough about MIG to talk about it so that it would be understood by others we put together a pasture-walk group to introduce it to our friends and neighbors. We belong to more farm groups then we probably should but we get great joy working with other people. What makes us most proud are our son and daughter, our 5 grandkids and our 7 great-grand kids. It has been a hell of a trip so far, but we are not done yet.

2 Comments

  1. This article makes it clear how easy this is, and it inspires me to keep close track of how it goes when we try it on Canada & Russian thistle in 2016. I was talking up the method at a presentation just the other day — thanks Don, and thanks Kathy!

  2. Thanks, Don. Very helpful to learn what feed you started with to get to these good results, the cow count and estimated quantities. Good hands on info presented clearly.

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