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.