Canada Thistle is Alfalfa’s Equal

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) is most often compared to alfalfa for its nutritional quality.  A breakdown of its crude protein was provided by Oregon State University of 21% in the Spring, 13% in

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2 thoughts on “Canada Thistle is Alfalfa’s Equal

  1. 6/30/13 I just mowed 20 acres that beef and horses have been on. There were a few Canadian thistles other years, but today there were solid patches 4′ high, about 20% in bloom. It was seeded with brome and alfalfa 12 yrs. ago and in CRP for 10 yrs. before that. Now it is mostly what we call sod bound, except there were patches of creeping charlie. A brick yard adjoined this farm, which has the same clay. I’ve spread a lot of organic matter on this field, in that town people have been dumping compostables here for 21 years, the cattle are fed on the huge pile all winter and I push it with a large dozer, so only part of it heats. We’ve had an unusually cold wet May and June. Do you think there will be a problem feeding round bales, some of which will be almost totally thistle? I’m organic and would rather not dig it. Is there anything I could no til into it, that could compete with the thistle. I’ve spread the same organic mater on another field, that had no bare/creeping charlie patches and heavy sod and no thistles have appeared there. Thanks for any suggestions.

  2. One of the comments on our facebook page was from a fellow whose cattle weren’t eating their thistle in their night pasture. He and I will talk shortly so that I can help him solve this problem, and I wanted to share some information here for those I may not get to talk to individually.

    One of the issues with a plant that is as high in protein as Canada thistle (or alfalfa) is that an animal can only eat so much of it before it needs to eat something else. For example, I’ve watched cattle in pasture eat lots of thistle, and then head for yellow, dried out cheat grass to balance the high protein with some roughage.

    My rule of thumb is that if an animal isn’t eating something that I know is nutritious, it’s my job to figure out what I need to change in my management. Does the animal need some education? Is it the timing of when something is being grazed? Have I taught them to expect that I’ll move the herd soon so that they don’t have to clean their plates?

    I’ll be sharing more about this in coming articles. Stay tuned!

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