Switch in pasture weed control pays in savings, grass

An integrated approach that includes rotational grazing and pasture spraying takes out croton (doveweed), blackberry and other tough species and clears the way for more grass.

Bryan Morris recalls his learning curve as a new ranch manager was more like a rocket’s trajectory.

For one thing, he started the job in 2011, the single driest year in Texas history.

For another, he’d moved from the native rangeland of where he grew up in West Texas to bermudagrass in northeast Texas.

Things were just different at EG Cattle Company, Ivanhoe, Texas, where he started as manager. The ranch is owned by the Edwards family of Fort Worth, Texas.

“This was the first time I’d managed introduced forages, and it was a huge learning curve,” Morris says.

On native range, he thought broadleaf weeds were mostly a function of grazing pressure. In his introduced pastures, weed infestations seemed to be a function of East Texas.

Rotational grazing seemed to have little effect on weeds. Shredding (mowing, bush hogging) had been the main method of dealing with weeds on the ranch, and that wasn’t making much difference. It was also expensive.

To educate himself, Morris consulted the local Extension office, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and retailers. All referred him to the local Range & Pasture Specialist from Corteva Agriscience, Agriculture Division of DowDuPont. The specialist met with Morris and toured the ranch, and together they developed a plan using GrazonNext® HL herbicide as the main tool.

“We had lots of weeds that 2,4-D wasn’t going to work on,” Morris says. “When we sprayed [with GrazonNext HL] in 2012, it was a night-and-day difference.”

He still relies on Range & Pasture herbicides from Corteva Agriscience today.

Morris recalled a lesson he learned in the Ranch Management Program at Texas Christian University. For every pound of weeds controlled with herbicide, grass yield typically increased by a pound. Some trials with coastal bermudagrass documented 3 to 7 pounds of grass for every pound of weeds controlled.

 

TACKLING TOUGH WEEDS

Silverleaf nightshade and horsenettle had been a particular problem for Morris. The specialist from Corteva Agriscience told him spraying more than a single year would be required to rid a pasture of those perennials. Morris sprayed every pasture with GrazonNext HL for three years in a row.

“To this day, I hardly have anything in that family,” Morris says.

Morris now sprays his hay meadows just after greenup when nighttime temperatures stay above 65 F. That’s before he fertilizes. He won’t waste fertilizer to grow weeds.

For pastures where croton (doveweed) comes in every year, Morris typically sprays around the middle of May to early June. The tallest croton is up to 6 inches by then, and Morris figures most of the weeds have emerged. With the soil residual activity of GrazonNext HL, one application usually keeps pastures clean through the summer, he says.

“We’ve saved money by using herbicide,” Morris says. “We figured it cost about $15 per acre to shred, and we really had to shred twice a year to keep the weeds down. Herbicide and application was about $14 per acre, and we’ve got more grass and higher carrying capacity.”

GrazonNext HL at the rate of 1.5 pints per acre continues to be his workhorse, but Morris has also tapped Chaparral herbicide, usually for broadcast brush control.

 

BLACKBERRY TREATMENT

“Chaparral is my go-to for berry vines,” he says. “I’m spraying in early June, and we get a great kill on blackberries.”

For blackberry, Morris uses Chaparral at the rate of 3 ounces per acre.

“The first berry vine treatment will get about 80 or 85 percent the first year,” Morris says.

“Usually, two years at 3 ounces [of Chaparral per acre] will do it.”

That brush rate has also taken bahiagrass out of pastures, Morris says. No fan of bahia, he likes that.

“That’s a benefit. I have more bermuda where I sprayed with Chaparral,” he says.

Morris also has used Chaparral herbicide for general weed control when he didn’t want to use something containing 2,4-D. GrazonNext® HL herbicide contains 2,4-D. Chaparral does not.

Last year, nearby farmers had planted soybeans and cotton. Both crops are quite sensitive to 2,4-D. Morris didn’t want to risk drift or volatility or even to be known for using anything with 2,4-D.

So, he left a wide buffer on his borders, sprayed when the wind was away from the broadleaf crops and used Chaparral. If he’s only after croton, he’s found Chaparral at 1.5 ounces per acres to be sufficient.

“We needed something that was nonvolatile, that was going to lay down and not move,” Morris says. He heard no complaints, and his weed control worked well.

“I like to use a product from a company with a rep, good research, who knows their product and stands behind it,” Morris says. “That’s a big deal to me. I use name brand wormers for the same reason.”

 

ROTATION HELPS, BUT IT’S NO CURE

For all its importance in his pasture management, spraying is still only half the equation, Morris says. It helps him grow more grass, but he still must use that grass efficiently via rotational grazing. “My two big things are herbicide and rotation,” he says. “We want to keep the seed heads off the bermudagrass, keep it vegetative. When you allow seed heads, the nutrition is going to the seed and not the leaves.”

With ample rainfall, Morris moves cows to a new pasture every four or five days. With less rainfall, it could be every 28 or 29 days.

“You have to look at the pasture the cows are in and the pastures ahead of them,” he says. “We’re looking three or four pastures ahead when it’s dry and figuring so many days here and there. Rotation is a day-to-day decision. You can’t use a calendar.”

What rotation hasn’t done is keep weeds like doveweed from being an every-year problem.

“My opinion growing up was, we could manage weeds with grazing pressure and rotation,” Morris says. “But, here, with introduced forages and the loss of production we can have, herbicides and beef cattle go hand in hand. I can’t remove herbicides from my production.”

Weed control helps him grow more forage, he says. “And if you don’t have enough forage for the cow, you won’t have a calf.”

And that’s true anywhere in Texas.

 

 

Label precautions apply to forage treated with Chaparral or GrazonNext HL and to manure from animals that have consumed treated forage within the last three days. Consult the label for full details.

™®Trademarks of Dow AgroSciences, DuPont or Pioneer, and their affiliated companies or their respective owners. Chaparral and GrazonNext HL are not registered for sale or use in all states. Contact your state pesticide regulatory agency to determine if a product is registered for sale or use in your state. Always read and follow label directions.