On Pasture reader Kirk Cunningham wanted to know if I had ever found studies on cows grazing teasel. I knew of nothing off the top of my head, so I spent quite some time searching the internet. The only thing I found was from the 1945 Congressional Record. Sandwiched between remarks on the results of a “Gallup Poll on Questions of Interest to the Army” and “The Peace We Want – a Continuing Peace,” were comments by the Honorable Glen H. Taylor of Idaho titled “Salt and Weeds as Cattle Feeds.”
Here are Senator Taylor’s Remarks from Wednesday, July 25, 1945:
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Appendix of the Record an article published in the Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune entitled “Grangeville Farmer Lures Cattle to Graze on Weeds Which Have Been Lightly Salted to Provide Flavor” It strikes me it is an excellent plan to induce cattle to feed on salted weeds.
There being no objection, the article was ordered to be printed in the RECORD as follows:
GRANGEVILLE FARMER LURES CATTLE TO GRAZE ON WEEDS WHICH HAVE BEEN LIGHTLY SALTED TO PROVIDE FLAVOR
Craigmont, July 11 – – Sodium chloride (common table salt to most of us) has entered the picture as a possible weed eradicator, according to report from H.J. Lechner, agronomist for the Charles Lilly Seed Co. here.
Lechner bases his prediction partly on experiments conducted by ben Baker, pioneer farmer of the Grangeville area, who saved himself a lot of hard work by flavoring teasel, burdock and other weeds in a lightly pastured hillside with hay salt.
“My observations show the test to be a complete success,” said the agronomist. “It seems that during the test a neighbor’s cow in the pasture at the time of the experiment later went home to demonstrate her weed-eating reeducation to her owner.”
“Mr. Baker applied a light salt treatment on the weeds to make them attractive to cattle appetites. He says he applies the salt when there is a slight dew so some of it clings to the plant. This is done when the plants are young. It occurs to me that a liquid application, if not put on too strong, may have some advantages too.”
GOAT WEED TESTED
Goat weed (St. John’s wort) also might yield to such treatment Baker reported to Lechner. If applied in time the salt application might go a long way toward elimination of that pest although treatment would be difficult on rocky hillsides, Baker said. Lechner reported Baker’s sidehill pasture demonstrated that the blue grass won out against goat weed this year. The treatment would be particularly successful where sheep are grazed, in the opinion of the Grangeville farmer.
“In my observation there was a better chance to see the success of the salt appetizer on the teasel,” said Lechner. “This is a tall-growing weed which when ripe has long terminal burs. These burs once used to produce the downy finish to blanket.”
CATTLE LIKE SALTED WEEDS
“A fact that seems to deserve special emphasis is that the salt flavoring made the weeds a preferred diet to grazing cattle. Blue grass was plentiful while the young teasel plants were eaten down closely.
“Often deep concern has been expressed to me about this or that weed ‘taking the country.’ There is no mistaking the fact that there are some good grounds for such a fear, but there also is another side – a side that might indicate that such fears might better be replaced by a better understanding not only of control, but of nature’s reasons for seemingly loading us up with this sort of trouble.”
“We use weedicides to help in the battle against weeds: some of these are chemicals that poison the soil; others – some new ones – seem to be a matter of giving an excess hormone treatment with the idea of getting a kill by giving the plant too much of a good thing. Giving hormones to a plant may be good, if not done to excess.”
Agronomist Lechner’s idea that a liquid application of salt could work well is something that prescribed grazier Ray Holes has demonstrated works well. When his goats are headed to a pasture with weeds they may not be familiar with, Ray sprays them with a little saltwater. This encourages the goats to try them, and then they continue eating them in pasture, regardless of whether or not they’re all salted. This works because weeds are nutritious, and once an animal has tried a nutritious plant, it will continue to eat it as part of it’s over all diet. In essence, that’s what the neighbors cow demonstrated as well. Once she’d tried the salted weeds, she went home and ate them there even without salt.
I have no information on the nutritional value of teasel. Most “weeds” haven’t been analyzed so that’s not unusual. My rule of thumb based on analysis of many weeds is that if it’s green and growing it’s nutritious, and the fact that Baker’s cattle ate it well is a good indication that it has value. This is also a safe plant for your livestock to eat.
Saint John’s Wort (Hypericum perforata) on the other hand can cause photosensitivity in livestock if they eat too much. What this means is that when an animal eats St. John’s Wort and is then exposed to the sun, it will suffer from very itchy skin, reddening and swelling on it’s body, blisters and even sloughing of the skin of the teats, udder, escutcheon, and areas that are less pigmented or have little hair. These symptoms occurred in 500 to 700 pound calves that ate as little as 1% of their body weight. Sheep have an advantage because their wool protects most of their bodies from the sun, so these signs will usually only be found on their ears and faces. If you see this happening to your animals, remove them from pastures with St. John’s Wort until they recover. It usually only takes a few days unless the symptoms are severe.
Back to the Future
I’ve found a number of other solutions to modern problems in old journal articles and papers. I’ll be sharing those as we go along.