Spring Clean-up for Pastures

By Kurt Kangas   |   Angus Beef Bulletin EXTRA

Spring is finally starting in the Northwest. Calving season is winding down, and cows and bulls are looking forward to spending quality time together on greener pastures. Without a doubt, springtime on a ranch is an extremely busy time of year. Calving, branding, breeding, fencing, seeding ... the list goes on and on. It’s also an important time to review or create a vegetation management plan for the ranch.

Doing an initial inventory is best done in the summer months when vegetation is at its peak production. However, taking inventory of noxious weeds can begin in early spring. On rangeland in the West, the spread of noxious weeds has been ongoing for decades.

Currently in Montana the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) estimates that 8 million acres are affected by noxious weeds at a varying cost of up to $40 per acre. The BLM estimates this acreage is currently growing at a rate of 5% per year.

A Washington State Department of Agriculture research group estimates that the direct economic impact of invasive species on the livestock industry is estimated to be $120.1 million annually. In a similar study done in Oregon, potential losses, which include farming, livestock, recreation and wildlife, due to noxious weed infestations were estimated at $1.8 billion. Most western states would have similar losses, varying by amount of rangeland and size of the state. It’s important to note that no state or county in the 11 western states is unaffected by noxious weeds.

While these numbers seem daunting, on a ranch level, the numbers should be substantially less. The key is to develop and execute a noxious-weed management plan.

Components of a noxious-weed management plan Education — Become familiar with what noxious weeds might be present. Usually a university Extension service will have a well-done online or printed guide to identifying noxious weeds. Become familiar with options for control.

Identification — Many species can be identified early in the spring before seed set and doing so can greatly improve controlling infestations. Modern technology has made creating an inventory of infestations easier than ever. From satellite imagery to horse or four-wheeler and GPS, data collection or mapping can be accomplished quickly and should be done annually to monitor areas of infestation. Once again, the Extension service can be helpful.

Control — While chemical control is still very popular and successful, use of biological control can be successful, as can utilizing grazing by different species like sheep or goats.

Funding — It’s important to note that many states and counties in the West offer grants to help pay for control of noxious weeds. While it takes some office work and formation of a plan, usually the county Extension office can help with writing.

Vectors — Identify what vectors may be contributing to the spread of weeds. While this can be very hard to pinpoint, watch for seeds in the fall on cows and calves and remove if possible during preconditioning or preg-check.

Control of noxious weeds can increase the amount of grazable forage available to ranches, increasing the carrying capacity of native and improved pastures. While it’s not the most fun activity on the ranch, it can add to the bottom line.

Editor’s Note: Regional Manager Kurt Kangas covers Region 10, including the states of Alaska, Montana and Wyoming. Click here to find the regional manager for your state.