Fall is the perfect time to start thinking about about healthy pastures. If it’s been on your mind, and it’s something you want to tackle this fall, a good place to start is by getting a handle on weeds. Controlling weeds can be time consuming and costly. Not only can they be harmful to livestock, but they can compete for nutrients in fields and pastures. They grow fast and can get out of control quickly. Below, Amanda Radke of Beef Magazine shares 4 essential tips for getting weeds under control and getting that perfect pasture.
1. Use herbicides in alfalfa fields
The best way to control weeds in alfalfa fields is to grow a dense, heavy stand. But that’s not always possible, so you may need to turn to herbicides to keep the weeds at bay. Before you do, evaluate the quality of the stand- it will dictate how you should spray.
Chickweed, purple deadnettle and henbit cause similar problems. They can develop a thick mat that competes with the alfalfa until the first cutting. It’s been reported that you can lose up to 30% of your alfalfa stand just from infestations of chickweed- so it’s very important to keep them under control.
If the weeds are allowed to persist through the growing season and then die, foxtails, lambsquarter, and pigweed will often take over. Perennials like dandelion and Canada thistle can also creep in and reduce yields and quality.
Turn to herbicides if weeds have crept into your alfalfa.
2. Graze properly
Mark Landefeld, Ohio State University Extension educator says that nearly all weed problems can be solved with proper grazing and harvest management. Sometimes recurring problems with broadleaf weeds can’t be solved by use of herbicide. It would damage your legumes. In these instances, good grazing and harvest management can help you prevent weeds from going to seed.
Be sure to watch for overgrazing. This can use up root reserves, and allow fast growing weeds to take over. Also make sure you keep the soil pH right. A pH of 6.5-6.7 is ideal to allow forage plants to compete against weeds.
If you don’t raise cattle, consider a grazing partnership. You can lease your land for grazing cover crops in the fall or before spring planting. Details of the agreement should depend on what’s growing and how long the livestock can graze. Tyler Williams is an extension educator at the University of Nebraska explains:
“How much can you get out there, how long are you grazing, but also what is the quality of the cover crop? Ideally you want to get the protein content tested just to see what sort of value. If you have higher quality feed value out there, it’s worth more to the rancher or the cattle owner, especially if they’re putting out maybe some feeder animals, get some good growth out there,” he says. “So, it ultimately comes down to how much is out there and what the quality is.”
The cattle owner could also pay by the head per month, or by the acre. Just make sure the plan falls within the needs of the crop producer, and that the details are worked out beforehand.
3. Get the timing right
Different kinds of weeds need to be addressed and different times. Annuals are easiest to control at the seedling or vegetative state. They become less responsive to herbicides as they mature. Get a handle on biennials by using broadleaf herbicides during seedling and rosette stages. Control perennials during the early bud stage, or a couple weeks before flowering.
Properly timed grazing can also help maximize weed response to herbicides. Believe it or not, it is possible to train your cows to eat weeds.
4. Mow weeds regularly
Summer annuals are easily controlled with regular mowing. If you need an herbicide to treat problem annuals and biennials, response is best in the spring and fall. This includes horseweed, common ragweed, giant ragweed, lambs quarter, yellow foxtail, velvetleaf bull thistle, musk thistle, burdock and poison hemlock.
Getting control of the weeds in your pastures now could lead to healthier spring forages. To promote healthy pastures, mow weeds regularly, get your timing right for grazing and herbicides, graze your pastures properly, and don’t be afraid to use herbicides if necessary.
In a related story Ag Nook examines “How to Get Your Cows Fed on a Tight Budget“.