Daily News Archives
From March 2, 2005

Teaching Cows To Replace Herbicides and Eat Weeds?
(Beyond Pesticides, March 2, 2005) Could it be that we are figuring out a way for cows to eat the undesirable plant species on a rangeland? Certainly, goats have been employed for just that for some time (see Daily News stories). But cows? According to the letter below from Kathy Voth of Loveland, Oregon,
a multiple-university project called BEHAVE and rangeland scientists at the University of Idaho, it is indeed possible.

"This past summer I ran a pilot project that successfully taught cattle to eat Canada thistle, leafy spurge and spotted knapweed. The focus of my project was on using research done by Dr. Fred Provenza of Utah State University to create steps that anyone could easily use to turn their livestock into landscape and vegetation management tools. My goal was to improve producer profitability by increasing forage availability and providing a low or no-cost alternative to herbicides.

For me, one of the most exciting things about this project is how easy it can be to teach cows to eat weeds once you understand a bit about behavior principles, or why they do what they do. I spent one week in February familiarizing my project herd with a variety of new foods so they would be more willing to try anything I put in a black tub. Once my target weeds were coming up in the spring, I spent an hour a day in dry lot for 4 to 5 days per weed teaching the cows to eat them. Research indicates, and my personal experience demonstrates, that cows will teach their calves and their herd mates, so for a very small investment in time and materials, a producer can control weeds and increase forage.

The forage aspect of my work was also very interesting. I discovered that many weeds, including Canada thistle, leafy spurge and spotted knapweed, are equivalent to alfalfa in nutritional value. Research has shown that animals avoid eating them due to chemicals they contain that reduce intake. However, by providing animals with inexpensive supplements, and ensuring that they have other forage to mix with the weeds, they will willingly include the weeds in their diets.

I have summarized the results of this project in a video on DVD available on my web site: www.livestockforlandscapes.com. I also offer workshops where participants can learn behavior principles and then develop plans they can successfully use in their own operations."