Weeds are a constant problem from farmers, especially in Ireland, as is sourcing grass and forage. But have you ever considered training your stock to eat weeds?
Some weeds found in Ireland are highly nutritious and full of protein, but our livestock (cattle especially) can be very selective grazers. This means that certain weed crops grow vigorously in your pastures, meaning some parts of the land needs clearing or does it?
There is a way to train your stock to not be so selective in their grazing and in turn train them to eat these weeds. It is surprisingly simple, all you have to do is to decrease their paddock size, whilst using a rotational grazing system, which therefore decreases their choice of plants to graze on. This can even be used to get rid of pest crops such as blackberry bushes!
As mentioned above, there are many weed crops which your animals can strive on.
The Vetch: For centuries the vetch plant has been eaten by cattle, though when they have the choice of lush grass or vetch, they choose grass. That is not to say it is not both beneficial for cattle and the land. This plant enriches the soil with nitrogen, by attracting bacteria to its roots. It is also a good source of protein for your stock.
Red clover: Red clover is another good forage crop, lurking in your fields. It is actually loved by livestock and even sought out by some. There is a problem though, as this plant does not hold up as well, nutrition-wise when turned into Hay or silage. This is due to the drying out process, though you can fix this problem through chemical or mechanical conditioning of the plant. It is at its most nutritious to cattle, when only 50% is in flower. This is when it has optimal feeding value, with more than 15% protein, making it an ideal weed to train it to eat fresh. Another thing though, excessive consumption can cause bloat, so only small portions.
Nettles: Another so-called pest of farmers. But, did you know that your cattle will eat young nettle shoots? By training them (and reducing pasture size), this not only reduces your workload(topping), but also provides a good source of feeding value for your stock. Young nettle shoots are high in protein AND calcium.
The Dock: Another plant which is considered a pest to meadows, but again one which has nutritional values to your livestock. The Broad-leaved dock is known to be high in potassium and phosphate levels in its leaves, while it is also high in magnesium. That is not all though, as studies have proven that livestock fed on herbage containing dock leaves, do not suffer bloat. This is due to tannins in its leaves, which causes the release of soluble protein in the rumen.
Blackberry Bushes: As mentioned above, you can even rid yourself (sort of) of the blackberry bush. A real pest for most pastures, though highly nutritious for cattle. The leaves can contain up to or over 12% protein, while the berries are loaded with sugars. The leaves are said to contain sugars also, making them a tasty treat for stock. If you decrease paddock size, decreasing grazing options, they will then turn to the blackberry bush and fight off the prickles to get at it. The seeds of the blackberry will, of course, be released into the land again, through the excrement of the animals, though this might not be a problem anymore!
It is said that some paddocks are made up of 30% plus of weeds. We should, therefore, take advantage of this, not only for our benefit but the benefit of our livestock also.