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I Know You Paid A Lot of Money to Manage Weeds, But It Just Doesn’t Work

“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.”

My old orthotics.
My old orthotics.

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 it doesn’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

Click to download the study showing that herbicide use can exacerbate weed problems.
Click to download the study showing that herbicide use can exacerbate weed problems.

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.

Graphs showing herbicide didn't improve grass or gainHerbicides Don’t Increase Grass Production

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.

Herbicide Doesn’t Increase Cattle Gain

This same study also showed 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, 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.

You can save a lot of money by turning a problem into a forage. In fact, you’ll find on average that you have about 43% more forage. You’ll also eliminate the time in workshops learning about herbicides and getting certified to use them, followed by calibrating equipment, applying the herbicide and cleaning up after. I’m sure you have plenty of other ways to use all that time!

Here’s a link to the books and resources I have that can help you get started. You’ll find:

• The ebook set – Cows Eat Weeds, with the process, what I learned along the way and how I solved problems I encountered; and Edible Weeds & Training Links, a list of over 120 weeds and whether they’re safe to graze and a quick start recipe to get you going at home.

• Links to On Pasture articles about training, and different weeds animals have learned to eat, and

• Links to my Youtube channel with videos showing the training in action.

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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 article brings out the fact that good grazing management is the answer. Chemicals do more damage than good.

    Our weed problems come from continuous grazing practices. In most cases all that is needed is free grazing management, not an input.

  2. Thanks, Kathy. I first felt my foot trudging through the winter mud two years ago, I’m not 20 anymore either. The only thing that helps is stretching it. My sister impressed this on me and encouraged me to “stick with the science” and as long as I do my foot is 90% better.

    As for herbicide, a Chinese Tallow infestation has bdriven us to spot spray with Tordon/2-4-D mixture. I don’t like messing with the stuff and I really didn’t like when my tongue was numb from the tiny bit of overspray I must have inhaled even though I was careful. The ewes will eat the leaves, but the trees keep growing.

    Have you worked with Cattle and Chinese Tallow? We have Pineywoods and I have seen them nibble a tiny bit on the leaves, but nothing to speak of.

    Once we put a dent in the “infestation” we will stop using the Tordon. Hopefully before I have to buy another bottle– That Stuff is EXPENSIVE!


    • Hi Donald,

      Well, Chinese tallow isn’t good for cows, but apparently sheep and goats can eat it. So sorry, you are probably approaching this one in the best way possible.

      Thanks for reading and writing!


      • We heard from a friend of a friend that her goats were poisoned (to death) by eating too much Chinese Tallow, but she was cutting down trees for the herd and it may have been the majority of their diet. IF a cow were to eat Chinese Tallow I could see her ingesting enough at one time to feel the effects of the toxins. Would they learn to moderate their intake and possibly benefit from small amounts of the toxin as a de-wormer like tannins in oak leaves? Researchers, where are you?

        Thanks for OnPasture!

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