How to Manage Bitterweed in Pasture

One of our On Pasture readers in east Texas wrote us to get some ideas for controlling bitterweed on her place. She raises natural sheep and hay, so would prefer not to use herbicides. But she now has one four-acre pasture that is about 80% bitterweed and pulling and burning it is very time consuming. Are there alternatives? Bitterweed, also known as western bitterweed or bitter rubberweed (Hymenoxys odorata) is native to the southwestern and south-central United States, northern Mexico and other dry areas. A single plant can produce more than 50 flowers and 5,000 seeds in a growing season. It thrives in cases where there is little competition. So when other plants in a pasture are closely grazed or overgrazed, bitterweed populations expand. Grazing is NOT an Option The problem Hymenoxis odorata and 3 related species (H. richardsonii, H. lemmonii, and H. subintegra) are poisonous to livestock, as sheep ranchers began to discover in the early 1920s. Overgrazing in the late 1800s and early 1900s seriously weakened the choice grasses and forbs so bitterweed flourished. Drought exacerbated the problem and sheep, with very little else to eat, began grazing bitterweed. In his 1949 paper on "The Control of Bitterweed on Texas Ranges" Omer Sperry said that sheep losses of 28% were recorded in 1928, and that losses of 10 to 25% were

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4 thoughts on “How to Manage Bitterweed in Pasture

  1. I heard Dr Lacefield tell a couple of groups that something like 60% of Grazing related professors will probably retire in the next 5 years. NRCS has cut grazing specialist positions for more than a decade. Texas A&M no longer has a range department. We are going the way of the buggy whip maker even though there are still lots of buggies.

    I believe that the ranching community needs to speak up to prevent this loss of past, current and future knowledge.

    Chip you and many more practitioners are fantastic sources of knowledge but it helps to have an NRCS or Extension specialist who can be in your area in a few days to consult.

    That is also a reason that “On Pasture” is an important source of information for producers.

    1. Jess, we are lucky in Colorado that our NRCs people are ahead of most states. In 1983 the head of then SCS sent two of his best range managers to the Savory School. We have a continuation at this point of training new hires.

      Colorado State University is lagging in turning out Extension Agents with grazing knowledge. Part of this is because they are trying to do everything for everyone.

      More people now are getting the best training from Savory educator’s, Jim Gerrish, Dave Pratt and others giving schools that get right to the point when teaching grazing management.

  2. Practices from the past on the Joe Vander Stucken ranch show what we lost through the years on health of grasses and rotational grazing practices we are implementing today.

    How did this happen? Did Texas A & M take notice? Or did they and no one followed?

    All I ever heard was lowering stocking rate which we now know was adding to the problem.

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