Monday, April 15, 2024
HomeMoney Matters43% Better - The Economics of Getting Your Livestock to Eat Weeds

43% Better – The Economics of Getting Your Livestock to Eat Weeds

MTCowEatsThistleWhen I started teaching cows to eat weeds, I thought everyone would see what I saw: an economical alternative for weed management.  If cows or other livestock eat weeds, you don’t have to spend money on herbicide or buy fuel for spray rigs or mowers. You don’t have to rent goats (sorry goat producers).  And if you’re not interested in management intensive grazing, you don’t have to buy fencing equipment and set up any fences to get the cows to trample or eat the weeds. They just roam through pastures as they always do, adding weeds to their diets.

Still, just because that’s what I see, doesn’t mean it’s obvious to everyone. I could even be wrong! So I consulted some economists and I asked ranchers I’d worked with what they thought. Then I put it all together in a video to share with folks who want to know. You can watch the video, or read below for a summary of what my consultants and ranchers told me.

Increase Grazeable Acreage By As Much as 43%

Economist John Morley noted that weed management is a huge problem. For example the state of Montana needs a 50% increase in its budget, from $20 million to $30 millon just to prevent weeds from expanding. North and South Carolina spent $250 million and could not eradicate weeds. When he looked at a common infestation rate he determined that having weed-eating cows could increase acreage available for grazing by as much as 43%.

Bart Holowath of Canada’s CanFax (Cattle Market Information) noted that producers should look at the cost per animal of any herbicide treatment program. In his example he showed that a treatment program added 47 cents per pound of gain, saying “That’s just huge!”

Morley concluded that though the precise science on the economics of weed-eating cows won’t be available for another 20 years, producers shouldn’t wait. “What we do know, is that the lower-cost producer makes more money 100% of the time, and this is a way of reducing your costs in every respect.”

“It’s All Good. There Are No Downsides”

John Wick and Peggy Rathmann had this to say about their weed-eating cows: “Economically, if you’re comparing equipping, supplying and applying yourself to use transline, all you’re doing is focusing on weeds. If you’re training cows to go out, in addition to all the other beneficial things their doing, to also feed themselves on a nutritious plant like distaff, it’s all good, there’s no down side to cows.”

Other ranchers in the video agree with John and Peggy. John concludes by saying, “Save yourself the grief, don’t buy the equipment, don’t buy the transline….the grazing techniques that include thistle management are beneficial on so many levels it’s hard to quantify. But they’re all up. There’s no down side to cows eating thistle. Have a good day.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself! Eat weeds and have a good day!

Want to get started?

Check out the Weed Training Resources I put together for you here:

Turn Your Livestock Into Weed Eaters

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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.


  1. This is another instance of bringing cows back into the natural world. When they were wild, they would have grazed nearly everything for survival, same as wild animals of today.

    Cows lost this knowledge when we began babying them and made their life so easy they depended on us for survival.

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