With a strategic plan to manage weeds and stocking rates, cow-calf and stocker operators still recovering from drought can boost cattle gains now and beyond by improving pastures and enhancing forage production and quality.
“Economically, there is no better time to spray for weeds than when a pasture is coming out of a drought,” says Dr. Charles Hart, Dow AgroSciences range scientist and market development specialist. Stephenville, Tex.
He points out that while much of the nation’s beef-producing country has mostly recovered from recent droughts, parts of the Southwest are just now seeing their pastures begin to produce forages needed for herd expansion or revitalized stocker production.
Much of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado are in that drought-recovery. Rain and in 2014 and early 2015 were a blessing. But weeds are also competing for soil moisture with native grasses and seeded pastures. Left untreated, weeds rob the water and smother bare ground before grass can see substantial growth.
Destocking and weed control go hand in hand
“There is no substitute for destocking,” Hart says. “In terms of the recovery process after drought, it’s going to be highly dependent on the condition of that native grass before the drought. If you wait too long to destock, you’re actually going to damage the grass more and make it harder to recover from poor rainfall.
“In weed-control cases where we’ve been thrown a curveball with drought and a hardball with added rainfall, that’s where we can help out Mother Nature with a herbicide program to manage weeds and their competition for that moisture. That’s where weed control and destocking go hand in hand.”
Know your weeds
Effectively managing weeds or undesirable vegetation in rangeland and pastures begins with an understanding of what you’re up against. Hart says annuals, perennials, woody trees and shrubs each can require a unique approach.
“Ranchers need to scope out the problem and know the type and size of weeds that are invading their fields,” he says. “Proper treatment programs, applied at the right time and combined with other land management practices, will help ensure weed control success.”
In addition, there may be new weed species that come up after good rains. “They may be weeds you haven’t noticed before,” Hart says. “That’s when you may need to get with someone from Dow AgroSciences, AgriLife Extension or other Extension or NRCS weed and forage specialist who knows plants. Get the plants identified so you know what you’re spraying.”
Dow AgroSciences has a strong portfolio of herbicides that can be tailored to handle rangeland weed and brush problems. They include:
• GrazonNext® HL/ForeFront® HL, which provides broad-spectrum residual weed control. It controls more than 100 of the toughest weeds infesting pastures and hay fields. There are no grazing or haying restrictions for livestock.
• Chaparral™/Opensight®, also a broad-spectrum herbicide available for range and pasture for weed and brush control. It controls broadleaf weeds, provides residual weed control and controls many brush species. Its season-long performance provides pigweed and blackberry control.
• Sendero®, This new standard in mesquite control does not harm grasses or many desirable brush species. By stopping mesquite plant growth, it provides increased grass production and improved wildlife habitat. Sendero helps improve rangeland health by increasing groundwater recharge and reducing sediment load in runoff. It is labeled for use only Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
Hart points out that ranches should determine how much forage is available for grazing and whether the land has weeds or brush that can lead to over-grazing. “For example, 100 acres is not always 100 acres when it comes to a cow,” he says.
“There may be 100 acres of pasture, but you may have 25% weed cover, 25% mesquite or brush cover or 25% prickly pear cover. If that’s the case, you need to reduce that to 75 grazable acres or reduce stocking rates accordingly. It can cause unintentional over-grazing, which can have a big impact on the long-term viability of that pasture.”
Timing of applications is important. “Make sure the plant is susceptible to receive the herbicide,” Hart says. “For instance, when coming out of a drought and after some good rainfall, it’s a good time to do general brush control. We want to make sure the roots of the plant uptake the chemical.”
Hart concludes that with the high value of cattle and high input costs needed to obtain maximum performance, it’s essential that ranchers get the most out of their pastures. “Even though corn prices are down, forages are still worth more now than they’ve ever have been,” he says. “Better forage is needed in order to obtain the best nutritional value from our pastures.
“Anything we can do to increase the amount of forage available and increase cattle numbers effectively, in a good stewardship manner without overgrazing, is a plus for us.”
For more on range and pasture weed control and forage management, go to www.rangeandpasture.com.
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