A recent article in Nebraska Ag Connection by Bruce Anderson, an extension forage specialist describes how grazing early can be a good tool for managing weeds in native, warm-season grass pastures. He notes that while herbicides and prescribed burning can control many early weeds, grazing them might be better because it costs nothing, and doesn’t impact any other growth you might already have in your pastures. Anderson suggests an added benefit from weed-grazing, saying “It may save you from feeding expensive hay and let you wait before turning out onto pastures stressed from last year’s drought.”
Anderson’s suggestion for what he calls “Pre-season grazing” comes with some cautions to make sure you don’t harm your summer grass. Stop grazing before new grass shoots get more than a couple inches tall. The time of year this happens depends on your location and the seasonal temperatures. In Anderson’s home state, this happens in late April or early May in southern Nebraska, and later the further north you get in the state.
Pre-season grazing can remove the previous year’s growth to start the process of recycling nutrients trapped in old plant tissue. It also prevents weeds from getting a growing head start so that they don’t shade out or smother early growth of pasture grasses. Anderson says the only down side you might find is the work associated with getting fences and water ready earlier than you normally would. It might be something you’ll want to do yearly, since the weeds will be back next spring thanks to their resilient seed bank. But thanks to the good nutritional value of weeds, you might find it “pretty timely and valuable pasture,” says Anderson. “Give pre-season grazing a try, I think you’ll like it.”
We had similar good results in central Washington – grazing native cool season bunchgrass rangeland in the winter (the dormant season) and early spring. Winter annuals (cheatgrass, mustard, etc) became the preferred forage species as they began growth in late winter and early spring, leaving bluebunch wheatgrass, Thurber needlegrass alone to grow. As soon as cheatgrass began to head-out and the animal’s preference started to shift to the natives, it was our signal to move off the native range and onto crested wheatgrass pastures. This allowed the natives to grow ungrazed, all spring and summer, to set seed and go dormant before the next grazing period – using a phenological calendar, rather than the Gregorian. The results over time were rewarding in improvements in range condition, animal health and calf crops.
I found this worked here on my farm this spring (just two days ago)as I let the cattle out of the winter holding area, I watched them eating many variety of weeds all young and tender, will be turning them in a new pasture tomorrow, all my pastures are in a form of being broughtback to life after many years of neglect.
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