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Training Cows to Eat Weeds – Even in Very Large Pastures

By   /  March 26, 2018  /  3 Comments

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  • Published: 2 years ago on March 26, 2018
  • By:
  • Last Modified: March 11, 2019 @ 4:10 pm
  • Filed Under: Livestock

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. Charles Black says:

    I force my cattle to eat weeds by allowing overgrazing. I have a small herd of 20 that I put on a half acre or so a day depending on the amount of forage. It doesn’t take long for the cattle to switch from choosing “ice cream” plants to eating almost everything. I spot spray for things like creeping buttercup. They CAN be taught to eat “weeds”.

    • Kathy Voth says:

      Hi Charles,
      This can work on a small scale or limited time frame, but I tend not to recommend it for a few reasons. First, overgrazing can be hard for plants to recover from and leave you with more problems than you started with. Weeds tend to like overgrazed areas and can come back stronger. But we may be thinking of different kinds of “overgrazing.” Another reason I don’t do this is the impact on animals. I’ve watched stock lose a lot of weight when forced to eat things they’re not familiar with, and that’s generally not a goal farmers and ranchers have. Another reason is that animals could have bad feedback from toxins in plants. When an animal is “starving” it is less able to process some toxins and it may decide not to eat that plant again thanks to negative feedback. Or it might not have enough variety to mix with a plant with a toxin so it won’t have the nutrients necessary to offset effects of toxins. For that reason in particular, I tend to make sure that livestock have plenty variety to choose from in pasture so that they can safely mix a variety of foods and maintain weight and health.
      Just some thoughts.

      • Charles Black says:

        This is temporary because we are getting good growth from our ryegrass. If I let them eat down to 3-5″ like I normally do they will pick the ryegrass and leave everything else. I move them daily and they aren’t touching the spreading buttercup so I feel like I’m within the safety threshold. I do BCS regularly as well as analyzing cow patties. Thanks for the feedback. I’ll watch them closely.

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