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Weed protocol important in returning cattle

Producers that have cattle that are returning back to the farm should follow a weed management plan.

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Following a weed management plan can greatly help reduce the spreading of unwanted weeds. Photo taken in June of 2020. Emily Beal / Agweek
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Many producers made the decision to relocate their stock to other operations for winter feeding this year due to lack of feed because of drought. In order to prevent unwanted weeds, producers should follow a weed management plan or have a weed management protocol set in place for when their cattle return.

“The retention time of potential weed seeds in the gastrointestinal tract is heavily dependent on the digestibility of the diet,” said Zac Carlson, NDSU Extension beef cattle specialist. “When we turn cattle out to green, lush cover crop, the passage rate of that feed is high compared to lower digestible forages, such as prairie hay. That does not mean some seeds couldn’t get held up longer in the gastrointestinal tract.”

Another important aspect a rancher should take note of is if their cattle were being fed in areas known for weeds that can be toxic to the animals, making the potential spread of those weeds deadly in some scenarios.

“If you have sent your cattle to areas where there are known Palmer amaranth, waterhemp or other noxious or troublesome weed issues, it will be important to allow a ‘cleanout period’ upon return,” said Joe Ikley, NDSU Extension weed specialist. “Crop fields are not the preferred area for this period, since weeds like Palmer amaranth are generally more difficult to control in crops compared to bare ground, pastures or a corral.”

It is advised that ranchers contain their cattle to one specific area over a week period.

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“The manure, which includes feces, bedding and spilled or uneaten feedstuffs, should be kept in that area and composted,” advised Mary Keena, NDSU Extension livestock environmental management specialist based at the Carrington Research Extension Center. “Composting manure has been shown not only to reduce the volume of manure and kill parasites and pathogens, but also is an effective weed seed management strategy.”

In addition, that manure which has been accumulated in the confined area should not be spread onto the rancher’s acres, as that can also spread the unwanted weeds into new ground and help unwanted grass species grow and prosper.

“It is never recommended to spread manure on native rangeland,” said Miranda Meehan, NDSU Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist. “Adding additional nutrients can benefit invasive grass species such as Kentucky bluegrass and smooth brome.”

According to Keena, if ranchers are piling manure and turning it five to six times every 10 days to two weeks, the temperature of the mile will reach around 130-160 degrees. This high of a temperature along with the correct amount of moisture will kill both small and large weed seeds.

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