Get Rid of Pervasive Weeds by Strengthening Pasture Grasses

buttercup-fieldWe all have those pervasive, often toxic species of ‘weeds’ that take over our horse pastures until there’s barely any grass or edible forage left.

One solution is to dump a layer of chicken manure over your pasture and just put up with the smell for a couple of weeks – and that will knock out a bunch of pervasive plants like buttercup.

I know other people who hand-pull plants by the roots. One rancher I talked to recently spent 12 years pulling clumps of ragwort out by the roots to finally eradicate it from his land.

So when I watched this video and learned of Will Harris‘ method for weakening these fast-growing annuals, whilst strengthening the slow-growing perennial grasses, I was intrigued.

Now granted, to implement this method, you’re going to need to cross-fence your land so you can rotate on and off it and you’re going to need to borrow some cows, sheep, or goats. Then you utilize his combination of:

1. Seeding the field with desirable species at 15 lbs of seed per acre
2. As soon as the perennial grasses have a decent foothold, bring in cows, sheep or goats for only an hour or two to lop off the annuals – which they’ll eat first because they’re large and succulent compared to the sprinkling of grasses.
3. Take the cows/sheep/goats off and allow the grasses to keep growing. Of course the fast-growing annuals will also be growing, so you need to keep bringing the cows/sheep/goats in for brief grazings for up to 2 years to keep lopping off the tops of the annuals.
4. By that time, the desirable grasses will have established their 6 – 8 foot long roots and will be able to hold your pasture in grasses; without being crowded out or taken over by the annual weeds.

However, Will still practices rotational grazing; alternating herds of cows, sheep and goats on an ongoing basis as he says it is the best system for maintaining the health of the pasture. He is considering experimenting with mixed-herd grazing at some point.

This whole video is great to watch, but if you just want the weed/grass stuff, then start watching at around 12 minutes:

Now, as you can see, Will is starting out with stripped, barren soil. So I don’t know how well this method would work in a normal field that has simply been plowed – but it would sure be interesting to test it! And man, you would get an amazing pasture that would sustain your horses for the next 100 years from only 2 years of management and reseeding. Pretty good payoff for the investment I’d say!

I have 4 horses (and a foal) currently boarded on 6 acres of about 70% noxious or undesirable plants, and 30% grass and edible forage, and 4 acres of forest, but no cross-fencing. So this spring I purchased a 60 lb bag of horse pasture forage blend seeds and hand-spread them over parts of the pasture. I wanted to see if the seeds could do anything to improve the pasture vegetation even though I could not take my horses off the field at all.

Well… nope. I don’t believe it had any effect at all. I think as soon as anything edible began to sprout, my horses mowed it down and the inedible/toxic plants flourished undisturbed as usual.

I know some people have had success putting some sheep or goats in with their horses – which also has benefits for worm control, but you’d need a good Livestock Guardian Dog or two to carry that off. Will Harris (video above) uses sheep, goats and cows in rotation and he says between the three there is only 1 weed that is left uneaten/controlled – thereby completely avoiding pesticides or herbicides.

I contacted Will and asked him whether having the sheep and goats mixed in with horses would work as well. He said, “It would work well, but continuous grazing is never a good idea, the key is to keep them moving (rotate pastures).”

Will Harris of White Oak Pastures
Will Harris of White Oak Pastures

I also asked Will if his method would work in a normal field that had simply been plowed, re-seeded at 15 pounds of seed per acre, and then just bring some cows on and off to control the weeds/annuals? He replied that, “Yes, it will work, but horses and cows are not as efficient in dealing with weeds as sheep and goats. They must be rotated through the paddocks/fields pretty rapidly – those top teeth make it possible for them to bite the grass very close to the ground. I really prefer multi-species in my rotational grazing program.”

Next, I talked with a local farmer who grows low-sugar hay for horses. But before that, he was a dairy farmer. He told me that he had a 6 acre field that was the turn-out area for 150 cows; who were on that pasture for 12 hours/day. Twenty-one years later, that field is still his top hay producing field! He said that cow manure is the equivalent of a Triple 18+ fertilizer. He also advised me to just borrow some goats for my pasture – that the goats will come in and just clear all the weeds in month or so.

I’m not sure how my horses would feel about a bunch of goats running around – probably they’d be fine or even enjoy them! Unfortunately, my fencing is not good enough to contain goats, but it’s a nice idea to tuck in my file for future reference. And I wonder if sheep are easier to contain than goats… I must admit, if I had to choose, I would go with sheep because they are also a natural equine worm control agent!

vader Hey, I wonder if there’s a business idea here for someone who has sheep and goats they could rent out to horse owners on a rotational basis. Especially if you trained them to stay inside normal horse fences (if that’s even possible?). All it would take is a good website with videos to educate horse owners and advertising the service everywhere horse owners shop, hang out, equine associations, newsletters, etc. Personally, I would pay for this in a heartbeat!

As Will Harris says, “Nature abhors a monoculture. Nature always gravitates to many different species of plants, animals and microbes living in symbiosis. You don’t have a forest with nothing but rabbits or a forest with nothing but deer in it. There’s always a smorgasbord.”

I would love to hear from anyone who’s been able to test different methods and/or come up with some successful methods – just leave your comment below!

Jini Patel Thompson is a natural health writer and Freedomite. She began riding at age 2 in Kenya, and got her first horse at age 8 in Alberta, and so continues a life-long journey and love affair with these amazing creatures.

Get Rid of Pervasive Weeds by Strengthening Pasture Grasses

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