Overcoming Our Brush Prejudice

Prejudice: an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason. – Dictionary.com Grassist: a person with a prejudiced belief that, for raising cows, grass is superior to all other vegetation. – Kathy Voth I have a confession to make.When I started my livestock career I had a strong prejudice against brush. For a time I worked diligently to develop simple techniques for creating fuel breaks in it or for eradicating it from pastures. And of course I used goats because, like everyone else, I was taught that “Goats are browsers and cows are grazers.” But goats aren’t for everybody, and when I couldn’t convince western ranchers to use goats for weed control, I decided to teach the cows to eat them instead. The cows showed me they could eat weeds with just a little bit of training, and then one day in Marin, California at the Nicasio Native Grass Ranch the cows showed me something else. They showed me that they could do every bit as good a job on brush clearing as my goats ever did. Most of the cows I’ve trained to eat weeds have become pretty open-minded about trying a little bit of everything in pasture. These particular cows were trained to eat distaff and Italian thistle, and they decided on their own to eat coyote bush, a species known to invade grasslands in the area. I videoed the cows

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4 thoughts on “Overcoming Our Brush Prejudice

  1. A cow will eat just about any leafy thing that is green. Here in the Southeast we have Kudzu galore. You put cows in that field and in no time all you see is roots and dirt. Broomstraw? turn the cows on it before it turns yellow or brown. Same with Johnson Grass. When we had some dry summers, I have cut the lower limbs of Water oak trees and they were standing there waiting for the next one to hit the ground.

  2. When I find Canada Thistle in a pasture I wait until it become mature then burn it with a flame weeder (500,000) BTU. This does not actually burn but cooks the plant by exploding the cells in the leaves. My Black Angus relish these cooked weeds, rushing over as they are still steaming! Who knew?

  3. Kathy – This is a good, thought-provoking article. Our biases often won’t allow us to see things that are different from our beliefs. In south Texas and in Chihuahuan desert ranges, cattle often eat a lot of browse – sometimes because they want to and sometimes because grass is scarce. The European bison, also called Wisent are a forest dwelling bovine and they eat large volumes of browse even when they have access to good grass. As you point out, browse is often high in nutrition and is a renewable resource. It should be considered a valuable part of the range resource and properly managed for sustainability. Thank you for the article.

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