Any time you can increase pasture productivity and stocking rate by anywhere even close to 80 per cent, that has to be a management practice delivering value to livestock producers.
But that's the kind of benefit research shows can be achieved by doing a better job of controlling weeds and brush on pasture, according to studies conducted by Corteva Agriscience. The weed and brush control was part of what's known as an integrated pasture management plan.
The company has done research trials across Western Canada, using different weed, shrub and even tree control products on more than a dozen pastures to knock back what are often invasive plants, allowing both native and tame forage species to grow.
Isabelle Thibout, product manager of range and pasture herbicides with Corteva Canada says herbicides applied on 14 different pastures across Western Canada increased forage production by 101 per cent the first year, followed by a 77 per cent increase in forage production the second year.
Looking more specifically at a project that compared herbicide treatment on an 80 acre pasture versus no herbicide application on a very similar 80 acre pasture, the treated pasture produced nearly 80 per cent more forage than the untreated pasture.
Looking at it in terms of carrying capacity, the untreated pasture produced about 1,120 animal days of grazing, while the treated pasture produced 2,000 animal days of grazing.
"If these pastures were grazed for 120 days it meant the producer could increase the number of cattle by about 80 per cent on the same land base," says Thibout. "Forage produced on the untreated pasture could support 9.3 cows for 120 days, while on the treated pasture where weeds and brush had been controlled the extra forage could support 16.6 cows for 120 days."
More forage produced, more cows on the same land area, more feed, improved milk production, all translating into higher calf weaning weighs and potential for improved profitability. Improved weed and brush control also means fewer weed seeds produced and distributed, improved pasture vigour and a healthy forage stand better able to withstand environmental stresses such as drought.
"There are multiple benefits not only from an overall beef production standpoint, but from an environmental standpoint as well," says Thibout.
The research demonstrates the value of applying herbicides to control weeds, brush and trees, but Thibout and Corteva regional range and pasture management specialists across Western Canada, advocate beef producers apply a more holistic approach.
Thibout encourages producers to develop an integrated pasture management plan. "That's looking at the whole picture," she says. "It's not just about weed and brush control."
An integrated pasture management plan involves developing a plan that looks at improving forage production with improved fertility, introducing more productive species in the grass or forage blend, weed, brush and tree control as necessary, a grazing management plan, that usually includes rotational grazing and routine pasture health assessments.
"Range and pastureland is an important crop and should be treated with the same management practices as other crops," says Thibout. "Improving the health and productivity of pastures also improves the productivity of the beef herd. A healthy and vigorously growing forage stand will remain productive much longer and as conditions change, new forage species can be introduced to help keep it productive."
Corteva Agriscience range and pasture herbicides include Restore II which is effective on invasive broadleaf weeds such as Canada thistle, Reclaim II which is effective on brush species such as snowberry (buck brush) and Grazon XC which provides effective control on trees and weeds in permanent pastures.
Working with Thibout are regional range and pasture specialists based in all four western provinces. For more information visit the company website at: www.corteva.ca or Google Corteva range and pasture management.
Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary. Contact him at 403-815-3719 or by email at [email protected]