“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.”
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
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.
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.