HOME & AG: Livestock owners should start controlling weeds now

Jan. 12—The unseasonably warm weather is prompting livestock owners to assess herbicides, as weeds are best killed when they are small.

Now is the time to think about sniping undesired herbage, according to Bradley Secraw, agriculture director, Cleveland County Oklahoma State University Extension.

"No matter the situation, there are options that can be utilized between now and early spring to control pasture weeds," he said. "If your pasture is looking a bit worse for wear, like many I've been seeing, you may be considering your winter weed control options."

Secraw said last year's drought caused animal keepers to overgraze their pastures, which prompted them to rely on hay throughout the cold months. Now that the new year has come, this overgrazing will be detrimental to desirable forages, and beneficial for the weeds that animals won't eat.

Weeds are important to take care of for ranchers and livestock owners because they take space for food that would otherwise be eaten. However, Secraw said that it is important to know what kinds of plants a grower's livestock will eat, because certain weeds are desirable to some animal species.

"First we need to consider what plants need to be controlled. Grazing animals will eat many broadleaf plants," he said. "In fact, goats prefer them to grasses. On the other hand, not all grasses are desirable in a pasture either.

For those who are only planning on growing grazing herbage, like clovers and winter grasses, he recommends seeding ryegrass and annual bromes, which can make good winter and early spring grazing.

"However, if you are producing high quality Bermuda grass hay, you may want to control these," Secraw said. "This underscores the need to identify what is growing in our pastures."

Livestock keepers encountered different obstacles last year related to global inflation trends, which raised the price of fertilizers and pesticides.

Some growers chose to not use them in the same amount as they had in previous years, hoping that they could make up the money in 2023.

"This choice magnified the damage the drought had on pasture quality. Depending on the severity of the overgrazing and type of pasture — i.e. Bermuda grass vs. native — pasture recovery could take as little as one season or multiple years," Secraw said.

To best control weeds, the agriculture director recommends different options, which include fertility treatment, cultural controls, and chemical controls.

"However, fertilizer will not be applied until later in the spring as applications now will only encourage weed growth while warm season forages are dormant," he said.

Secraw said those who want to use herbicides should use different options to weed management, including non-chemical approaches.

"The non-chemical approach mainly leaves us with grazing strategies and mowing to control weeds in the spring," he said. "Mowing should be done prior to seed set to reduce the weed seed soil bank long term," he said.

Secraw also warned against over-spraying.

"The number of weeds growing in our pastures as compared to grass is also important to know," he said. "For example, some producers are very intolerant of any kind of plant growth besides the Bermuda grass.

"While this may be a necessary practice when growing high quality horse hay, this is an aesthetic preference that may cost you if you decide to spray pasture when it is not justified."

To learn about different weed control techniques, the Cleveland County OSU Extension Office provides information.