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I Know You Paid A Lot of Money, But It Just Doesn’t Work

By   /  November 16, 2015  /  4 Comments

That’s pretty much what the research, and a decade of experience has shown me about using herbicides to control weeds. More about that, plus an alternative that actually works.

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“I know you probably paid a lot of money for them, but the research says that those don’t work, and all I can go on is the science and the facts.”

My old orthotics.

My old orthotics.

That’s what my orthopedist told me some years ago as he looked at the orthotics a foot doctor made for me and that I’d been wearing for a couple of years. I looked at the orthotics, which I hated, and then back at the Doctor and I told him, “Wow! That’s what I tell people all the time in my business too!”

I was at the orthopedist’s office because my feet hurt, and because the foot doctor who sold me the orthotics couldn’t seem to figure out anything to help me. He said my orthotics were perfect, and maybe if I put a little cotton pad over my ankle, things would work out. But they didn’t. Now the orthopedist was telling me that the science didn’t support the expense and hassle I’d gone through. Instead he handed me a sheet of paper with some stretching exercises and sent me home.

I was skeptical. But the science said so, and I use science every day, so I tried the stretches. And it worked! I’m not 100%, and there’s a little arthritis and over-use that may keep me from having the feet I had when I was 20. But the benefits of listening to the science are that I don’t have to buy or wear special shoes or orthotics, and I get to spend an extra 5 minutes in bed doing my foot stretches.

The lesson for me was that sometimes it’s hard to trust the science and try something different, but the benefits of taking the risk can be great. My feet are one example, and herbicides are another. What I’ve been telling people for the last decade is:

I know you paid a lot of money for that herbicide and that equipment to apply it, and the time learning to use it, but years of experience and new research says, that those don’t work.

We’ve been creating and using herbicides since the late 1800s. When 2-4-D was developed in the 1940s, a noted weed scientist declared we now had the tool to win the war on weeds. Yet sixty years later weed populations are still increasing at 8-20% per year.  We even have an increasing number of herbicide resistant weeds.

Herbicides Can Increase Weedy Species

Click to download the study showing that herbicide use can exacerbate weed problems.

Click to download the study showing that herbicide use can exacerbate weed problems.

In their 2009 paper, “Control effort exacerbates invasive-species problem,” Matthew Rinella and his colleagues summarized their sixteen year study. They found that:

“Aside from a transient increase in grass forage production, herbicide provided little benefit to the livestock producer or the ecosystem we studied. One of the primary objectives of spraying was to increase cattle forage by decreasing Euphorbia esula (leafy spurge) production, but paradoxically… herbicide ultimately increased E. esula production.”

They note that their previous research showed that grasses and forbs compete with E. esula. Since herbicide leads to long-term suppression of several native forbs, it follows that reduced native-forb abundances would lead to increased production of the target weed. Thus, spraying was actually increasing their problem.

Graphs showing herbicide didn't improve grass or gainHerbicides Don’t Increase Grass Production

Researchers in Oklahoma tested our assumption that applying herbicides extensively on rangelands to reduce weeds leads to an increase in grass production and ultimately to an improvement in livestock performance. They found that weeds were reduced by herbicide, but that grass cover changed more due to annual precipitation than the treatment. They found that even when herbicide reduced forb cover and increased grass cover, average daily gain was no different between cattle on treated and untreated pastures, and there was no difference in gain per acre. So basically, the paying for herbicide provided no return on the investment.

Can Science Help You Make More Money?

Experience and science show that we aren’t being successful with herbicides in pastures. On the other hand, science shows, and I’ve demonstrated, that animals can learn to eat them.

Maybe you can save a lot of money by turning a problem into a forage, and it might give you an extra 5 minutes to spend somewhere else too! Here’s a link to the books and resources I have that can help you get started, and scroll down to the bottom for links to all the how-to articles I’ve published in On Pasture. Or drop me a line and I’ll be happy to set up a time to chat, or even come visit your group to show you how to use your livestock to manage weeds.

Click on over to get us over the top!

Click on over to get us over the top!

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About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.


  1. Chip Hines says:

    This article brings out the fact that good grazing management is the answer. Chemicals do more damage than good.

    Our weed problems come from continuous grazing practices. In most cases all that is needed is free grazing management, not an input.

  2. Donald says:

    Thanks, Kathy. I first felt my foot trudging through the winter mud two years ago, I’m not 20 anymore either. The only thing that helps is stretching it. My sister impressed this on me and encouraged me to “stick with the science” and as long as I do my foot is 90% better.

    As for herbicide, a Chinese Tallow infestation has bdriven us to spot spray with Tordon/2-4-D mixture. I don’t like messing with the stuff and I really didn’t like when my tongue was numb from the tiny bit of overspray I must have inhaled even though I was careful. The ewes will eat the leaves, but the trees keep growing.

    Have you worked with Cattle and Chinese Tallow? We have Pineywoods and I have seen them nibble a tiny bit on the leaves, but nothing to speak of.

    Once we put a dent in the “infestation” we will stop using the Tordon. Hopefully before I have to buy another bottle– That Stuff is EXPENSIVE!


    • Kathy Voth says:

      Hi Donald,

      Well, Chinese tallow isn’t good for cows, but apparently sheep and goats can eat it. So sorry, you are probably approaching this one in the best way possible.

      Thanks for reading and writing!


      • Donald says:

        We heard from a friend of a friend that her goats were poisoned (to death) by eating too much Chinese Tallow, but she was cutting down trees for the herd and it may have been the majority of their diet. IF a cow were to eat Chinese Tallow I could see her ingesting enough at one time to feel the effects of the toxins. Would they learn to moderate their intake and possibly benefit from small amounts of the toxin as a de-wormer like tannins in oak leaves? Researchers, where are you?

        Thanks for OnPasture!

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