Knap-Time

You’re probably looking at my title and thinking that I spelled in error, the act of slumber after a heavy lunch. In my defense, naptime is usually when I think about how to react to all the purple knapweed growing on my farm this year. Just as I enjoyed an intense drool, dreaming of endless pristine pastures devoid of unsightly weeds, the annoying alarm clock of Mother Nature goes off and brings me back to the reality—weeds(also known as forage) are here to stay! Poet, Phillip Pulfrey said it best: I learn more about God From weeds than from roses; Resilience springing  Through the smallest chink of hope In the absolute of concrete.... My intimate relationship with this forage-weed is a lot like a marriage, it takes patience and compromise to work. Many folks abhor this matrimony and seek divorce by lethal injection with chemicals. I’m too darn stubborn to take this easy, costly route for I have an appreciation or affliction in working with this plant as a symbol of diversity and importance. In my way of thinking, God gave us this plant for a reason and I’m determined to find out why. According to the late Newman Turner, this “herb” knapweed or hardheads, as he called them, is one of the few indicators of phosphate deficiency. He said, “The existence of knapweed is one of the few justifications for applying rock phosphate as well as manure and ground limestone.” Curious to me was his description of how far down the plant’s roots will go to ta

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11 thoughts on “Knap-Time

  1. Wanted to say thanks for this article. A few years ago after watching the video 12 Aprils (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLDKRXPyOh4) I started learning (didn’t know what a no till drill was, I’m a computer guy with a few acres of irrigated pasture and a wife that grew up with 4-H). I learned about no till/sustainable agriculture (https://youtu.be/nWXCLVCJWTU) learned about strip grazing and mob grazing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIHDmlUQ-1o) learned about the importance of soil coverage (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBLZmwlPa8A)
    After watching the a video on intensive grazing I realized I needed to stop my animals from going back to an area recently grazed (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75nwvIK2AMs) And my life has changed.
    I started a moving slot in my electric fence, I only have a few acres. Last summer when moving the fence through an area infested with the despised Knap Weed I noticed that was the first thing the cows went for. They even went past alfalfa and clover blooms to get to the flowers on the knap weed. I was dumb founded. Knapp weed is considered an intrusive weed and I have neighbors ‘helping me’ by spraying it. I didn’t want spray around my animals (felt guilty for getting after my father in-law, we’re supposed to respect our elders) even if it was between the fence and the road. I asked him not to spray I will come out an pull it by hand.

    I also have butter cup that is considered a weed by my neighbors. My thought is if my 2 cows, calve, and 5 goats will eat it and not hurt them it is not a weed it’s food. I learned the butter cup is not bad for the animals till it flowers and I learned it is a sign your soil is to wet and or needs fertility. It was exciting for me to learn about the phosphorus side of the knap weed. if you watch Trantham 12 Aprils he did a plant test on the top part of the plant that his cows broke out to eat and found how much more digestible the top third is. As he said this isn’t rocket science it learning from watching even from what you thought was a mistake “university of farmer Tom”

    Some bullet points I keep hearing, I’m harvesting sun, increased organic material equals better soil.

    I’ve concluded I need to leave some grass (weeds) to grow and catch the sun when the animals are done grazing, and if it grows and does not hurt my animals then it is helping me by putting organic material down. I’d love to let the knap weed grow but Idaho has it listed as a noxious weed so I’m supposed to control it. But I sure don’t want to use poisons. Again just wanted to say thanks for your article helps me know I’m on the right path. – Stein

  2. My Dexter cows eat all the flowers on Canada thistles in their pastures. They eat some of the early “soft” greens. The bull sometimes eats cut and wilted thistles. My problem is getting rid of the roots.

      1. Dear Kathy,
        I thought it over and want to thank you for your comments. I really don’t have a problem in my pastures. I might if all the thistles went to seed and there lots of crop fields around, but I just checked and, indeed, the cows have pretty well eaten the thistles in the field that I top-seeded last year. They will graze it once more this fall.

        Curt

  3. I enjoyed the piece better the 2nd time because I’ve been able to see some result. This year’s batch of CAFO dairy heifers are actually eating the buds, flowers and the top leaves better than the seasoned heifers. New food=trying more? It may be the heifers needed more minerals that was in the knapweed too. Still struggling with balancing too much rest that favors these kind of plants. Still excited about the pollinator aspect of timing the knapweed flowers and grazing/clipping. Thanks for the comments James and Kathy

  4. Troy,

    We have also been working hard on getting our spotted knapweed grazed off as it moves from bud to full bloom. I have been very impressed with how well this set of heifers is eating it even at it progresses to full bloom. This is one of those rare situation where I have been moving the cattle twice and sometime thrice a day to encourage them to eat even more.

    Jim

    1. Jim, that is so great to hear! Now are you going to sell some of your knapweed eating cows to your neighbors for high dollar so that they can eat their knapweed too? 🙂

      1. Actually they are the neighbor’s heifers that I am custom grazing. We also get them to eat toadflax which is a lot less palatable than the knapweed.

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