Making feed out of weeds

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Don’t our stock in the paddock look a little forlorn in the autumn drizzle? The season hasn’t quite broken for some, and yet it’s getting temptingly close. We’re not sure if the rain falling on our paddocks now is good for anything, really, and we hear things like the cropping guys say, “Those summer weeds should have been poisoned just as soon as they germinated.” But we didn’t for some reason or other, so now what do we do with them?

Summer weeds will spring up everywhere on the back of rainfall, but is there something we graziers can do to use them to our advantage? Well, we have cattle, sheep, horses, or alpacas in the paddock that need to eat something, right? We have hay on hand to feed them over the summer as well. So, why not put the two together with a bit of innovation?

It sounds simple, but the greatest of intent is often foiled by our animals’ choosiness and the fact that our farms aren’t always set up to encourage them to eat the feed on offer.

What I have found to work very well is the hoof and tooth impact. In a healthy, sustainable pasture system, our animals should consume no more than around 60% of the grass (or weeds) that each hectare grows. What is left once our stock leave the paddock should have been either pressed back into the soil by hooves to become mulch and eventually organic carbon or allowed to continue growing to become feed for the future. Both these outcomes help maintain and strengthen our ground cover, a key element in retaining moisture, preventing erosion and improving pasture production. The worst thing we can do for our grass is to over-graze it. On the other hand, weeds need over-grazing if they are to be eliminated, and now is the ideal time to do it.

So here is where weeds and hay come into the plan.

  1. Get yourself some tread-in electric fence pegs and a couple of spools of electric fence chord.
  2. Use them to set up a barrier that isolates a part of your paddock.
  3. Then move your livestock and concentrate them in that one spot with adequate water for a short period – say a day or two.
  4. Then shift them to a fresh area and repeat the process, all the time supplementing their diet with quality hay.

As a rule of thumb, animals we need to grow at peak performance will require 3% of their body weight in dry matter per day. You can do the maths there on your own livestock.

I can assure you they will eat the weeds, and what they don’t eat, they will damage beautifully by treading on. Try using this temporary sub-division method to see how productive your farm can become by using more of what’s growing in your pasture right now and by resting the plants left behind as you move the animals on.

Remember, a weed is only a plant in the wrong place. As my old grazing coach says, “Never miss an opportunity to make lemons into lemonade!”

To learn more about regenerative farming and grazing systems, visit and join RCS at the upcoming 7-day Farming and Grazing for Profit School in Albany from 19-25 July. Or, if you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of grazing management specifically, keep an eye on our events page for further details on the 2.5-day RCS Grazing Clinic coming to Moora, 24-26 August 2021. Early bird savings are available for both courses, so contact the RCS office today on 1800 356 004 to get your discount. The author, Nic Kentish will be the trainer for both courses, covering grazing, business, ecology, livestock husbandry, people management and much more.

Nic Kentish
RCS Teacher and Advisor