5 Jul 2012, Comments (13)

Weeds Your Cows Could Be Eating Now

Author: kvoth

One of my project herds showed me that this is a perfect pasture if you're an educated cow

This is my 9th summer teaching cows to eat weeds and working with farmers and ranchers to help them educate their livestock.  More and more folks are getting on the band wagon, and I’ve learned more and more about weeds as well.  So here’s a list of the weeds I think you should be taking advantage of in your pasture.  It’s a semi-alphabetical list by common name.  If you have questions or need the latin names, let me know.

Weeds I’ve had analyzed that with 15% or more protein:
Canada thistle
Cutleaf nightshade
Distaff thistle
Fetid Marigold
Field Bindweed
Leafy Spurge
Prickly lettuce
Purple Starthistle
Russian Knapweed (has even been used as an alfalfa alternative!)
Spotted Knapweed
Wild Licorice

What I’ve learned is that when it comes to weedy forms, “If it’s green and growing, it’s nutritious.”  So though I haven’t tested these weeds, cattle have eaten them quite well:

Black mustard
Blackberry and Rubus species
Bull thistle
Canada Goldenrod
Common mullein
Coyote Bush
Curly Cup Gumweed
Curly Dock
Dalmatian toadflax
Diffuse knapweed
Field Scabious
Fringed Sage
Hoary cress/white top
Italian thistle
Louisiana Sage
Milk thistle
Moth Mullein
Multiflora rose – a fellow in West V irginia just taught his cows to eat this and they’re doing well!
Musk thistle
Orange Hawkweed
Oxeye Daisy
Perennial Pepperweed
Poison Oak
Poison Ivy
Purple Groundcherry
Russian thistle – Boulder County cows LOVE this and I didn’t even have to teach them to eat it.
Sow thistle
Velvet weed
White top/Hoary cress
Wild Rose
Wormwood sagewort
Yellow mustard
Yellow toadflax
Yucca (leaves and blossoms)

Here are some plants I’ve checked on that cows could eat, but that I haven’t had experience training them to eat:
Brazilian peppertree
Horse nettle
Japanese Knotweed
Salt cedar/Tamarisk
Sericea lespedeza – I’ve been talking to folks at K-State periodically, but they haven’t pulled the trigger on a project so far
Scentless Chamomile

Lots of folks want to know about these weeds:

Buttercup – a West Virginia dairy farmer told me that his cattle began eating this on their own, and that his milk production went up without any change in flavor when the cows began eating weeds.  There are varieties of buttercup that are harmful to sheep, so let’s talk before you decide to teach animals to eat this plant.

Wild Iris -What I read in the books and what I hear happening on the ground don’t match up.  I rancher in Nevada who trained her cattle to eat leafy spurge reported back that it seemed they had decided to eat the wild iris.  Again, we should talk before you do something with this plant.

Comments (13) »

  • Cathy Taylor says:

    I have started a small herd of grass fed cattle and have alot of weeds due to drought. I have had horsenettle and sandspurs really bad. Horsenettle is poison to horses and cattle was what I was told but you have it on your list. Can you expain it to me further. I believe in weeds being good in some cases. I also raise quarter horses. Thanks

  • Sitraka Andrianalison says:

    Hi Kathy,
    Thanks for the list of weeds.
    In my work area in Madagascar, we have grasslands. If I know the latin names of these weeds, I will know which of them may exist here.

  • michael ortwein says:

    A book in full color with pictures and the names of the various weeds would be hughly helpful. We have a weed my cows just love, cannnot find it in a book, have no idea what it is, but when I use to bushhog my pasture, they would get 6′ tall and hard to get thru. My cows eat them down to the ground.

  • kvoth says:

    Hello to Cathy Taylor. In answer to your question about Horsenettle (latin name Solanum carolinense), I looked it up for folks in Virgnia. Here’s what I found and what I told them:

    The primary toxin in horse nettle is solanine. I haven’t found anything that specifically says that this plant causes poisonings. All my resources simply say that it is part of a genus that has been associated with toxic effects. The primary problem is irritation of the digestive tract. But it appears that results can be erratic. Here’s a quote from Toxic Plants of North America: ” ” There has been particular concern about the toxicity potential of the speicies of Solanum commonly called nightshades, but the hazard with the various species is quite erratic, and evidence is conflicting as to the actual overall risk. In some instances, investigators have been unable to produce intoxications…and in other cases digestive disturbances have been reported.” The thing they seem most concerned about is potatoes.

    If it were me, I’d go ahead and train cattle to eat it, but I’d be sure that they have plenty of variety available. I would watch for evidence of digestive tract upset, and if they suddenly seemed “depressed” I’d give them some activated charcoal as that is supposed to help with any negative effects. I really don’t think that would be necessary, but I’ve done a couple of plants (Leafy spurge) for example, that I’ve been prepared for, even though nothing happened.

    If I had other weeds in my pasture, I would teach my cattle to eat those first and then let them go on to try others, like the horse nettle, on their own. I’ve watched cattle learn to eat all kinds of things on their own, even things with toxins that I thought would have been harmful. But since they are mixing a wide variety of forages, and they get such a low dose of any one thing, they do just fine.

    As for horses, since they’re not ruminants, and they are likely quite valuable to you, I wouldn’t train them to eat horse nettle. Horses react differently to toxins in weeds and so before you work with them at all on weeds, you should give me a call.

    Maybe you could send me an email about other weeds you have and I could give you an idea of how to get started. My email is kvoth@livestockforlandscapes.com

  • Harvey Phillips says:

    Hi Kathy
    I work in the area of Pest Plant control both with chemical and using bugs, rusts, fungi so have been very interested in your work for some time. The list of plants you have mentioned as being controlled by cattle is quite large and a lot of these are not in New Zealand or my area, but common names can be a bit confusing, would it be possible to get these in latin?

  • kvoth says:

    A couple of folks have asked for the latin names to help them identify these plants in other countries. I’ll get those up Monday orTuesday

  • Fairan Barnett says:

    Hi Kathy,
    First, I did fill out the survey. Second, I would pay for access to a website that displays really good weed pictures, with multiple stages of each plant, along with all the information on grazing or avoiding that plant.
    Thank you for your work.
    Fairan Barnett

  • kvoth says:

    Thank you Fairan for filling out the survey AND for sharing your thoughts on a “weed” website. It seems like something I could put together for folks.

  • Richard Endacott says:

    I bought your DVD and have already watched it twice.

    I think I am ready to try this on ten head of heifers. The pasture I will have them in has a lot of ironweed. I didn’t see this on your list. Will your technique work on ironweed? Thanks, Dick Endacott, CEO, Nebraska Educational Lands and Funds, Lincoln, Ne.

  • Richard Endacott says:

    How about ironweed. Will this work on that weed? Thanks, Richard Endacott

  • kvoth says:

    Yes, Ironweed is edible. Some producers have told me that their cows are already eating it without any training at all.

  • Rick Yarnell says:

    Hello Ms. Voth,
    On your list of weeds you have Sericea lespedeza, and state, “I’ve been talking to folks at K-State periodically, but they haven’t pulled the trigger on a project so far.”
    The three weeds in my pasture that are a problem are buckbrush/snowberry, blackberry/dewberry, and chinese bushclover/sericea lespedeza. Sericea lespedeza is a big problem here in Kansas grasslands and my cattle avoid eating it – mainly because of the tannins in it that affect the taste – or so I’ve been told.
    This is the first time I’ve noticed Sericea lespedeza on your list. It’s time for me to try it; but if K-State is looking for a volunteer for field trials, I’m in!

  • Lance says:

    I would like to grow something chickens will eat as well as goats. Any advice on wild foilage those 2 animals would thrive on?

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