Ruminants, not Round-Up

Lisa has had a lot of exposure lately to “the experts”. One of the things they talk about is how to rid an area of unwanted brush, especially when it’s filled with “invasive species”. It almost always involves the heavy duty use of poison, applied at certain specific times during the life cycle of the plant. The theory is that if you deplete the roots of stored energy at strategic points three or four times during the growing season, you’ll eventually get ahead of the beast.

There’s the first big hole in the chemical agriculture pravda. According to the advertisement, you are supposed to be able to just spray on a little glyphosate and it is an ‘ex-plant’. Oops, not so much. I’ve used real genuine (T) Monsanto Roundup on Canada Thistle. It wilts a bit and then bounces right back. I end up muttering that Monsanto will sue God for using its’ patented genes. Canada thistle is the one plant I would be willing to use herbicide on.

In general though, it doesn’t make sense to use herbicides on weeds. Instead, we use animals. We have an entire arsenal of animals of various types, and we move them through areas at those same critical time periods. We’re still building up our pastures. There’re still a lot of random forbs out there. We could use 2,4-D or some other broad-leaf weed killer.

Fiona Or we could use Fiona, our head Icelandic ewe. When we turn the sheep into a new paddock, she methodically goes through and eats every dandelion she can find. We’re pretty short of dandelions now.

We got our first honeysuckle last year. I showed it to the sheep. We no longer have honeysuckle. We have some burning bush in the front yard, from before it was blacklisted. (It’s still too cold here for it to be really invasive.) The sheep get out often enough that it has no leaves that they can reach. If it is in your pastures, cut it once and put sheep in twice a year. No more problem. They like Japanese knotweed too.

This version of weed control doesn’t cost, it pays. I’ll argue another day about the health and environmental effects of poisons. Today I’m wearing my yankee farmer hat. You can pay someone to mow your fields. You can buy herbicides, and spend time applying them. Or you can get some sheep or a heritage breed cow or two. You’ll spend no more time and no more money, and when snow flies you’ll be ahead by a full freezer and maybe some money in the bank.

The plan isn’t perfect: we haven’t found anything that likes Canada Thistle, and a lot of purple loosestrife is too deep in the swamp to be grazed. But Roundup doesn’t do Canada Thistle either, and purple loosestrife makes great bee pasture. We’ll take the 80%.

5 thoughts on “Ruminants, not Round-Up”

  1. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I would love to have ruminants chosen as a solution to the vegetative growth under the power lines of Cape Cod but that isn’t going to happen. NStar, the utility company, plans to use four herbicides, including glyphosate, which is Roundup in purer form. I have been reading about how it can get into our sole-source aquifer and stay there, as a poison, for decades. Even traces of herbicides are bad. The thing is, we get our drinking water from the aquifer. We need to spread the word. So many people believe Monsanto’s lies that it is not harmful.

    • Unfortunately there is a problem with using animals to clear power line rights of way. The most cost effective way would be to use portable electric fence. Which does not work under power lines. So you need either a really good dog, or, more likely a person and a dog to look after them. That makes the whole deal more expensive than anybody would like. (That “really good dog” is really hard to find, and doesn’t come cheap.)

  2. Thistles are designed to not get et. When I had a postage stamp yard, there were a couple of thistles. I took on the method of letting them grow up tall enough to flower, then digging them out as deep as I could, root and all, before they went to seed. Spray the top of the root with weed killer. Fill the hole with dog poo, stick a wad of dead leaves on top so you don’t have exposed dog poo. I didn’t live there long enough to see how many times a single plant would come back, but I can tell you that even the root has spines.

  3. Wonderful post. There are many businesses springing up, offering sheep and/or goats as weed clearing and grass clipping alternatives to mowing/herbicides. This is a heartening development.

    And I have to say, Fiona is gorgeous.


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