It’s often said that if you’re a cow-calf operator, your job is to run cows that produce healthy calves every year. And the most efficient path to that goal is to maintain pastures that yield nourishing forage and limits the need for supplemental feeding.

“Producers need a pasture with grass that is nutritious and plentiful. If it has excessive weeds, there will be a decrease in grass quantity and quality,” says Dr. Angela Clark, DVM, Hohenwald, Tenn.

At Hohenwald Animal Hospital, where Clark is an associate veterinarian, many of the large animal clients are cow-calf or stocker operators.  Most have experienced wet conditions that can sometimes reduce forage quality while promoting excessive weed growth. And they’ve also been hit with drought that forces ranches to stretch their resources to the max.

“We want a cow that produces a good calf every year,” Clark says. “So we must make sure she breeds back within 82-85 days after her calf hits the ground. That normally requires that producers take a proactive approach to pasture and animal health management in all kinds of conditions. That will help cows maintain a Body Condition Score of 5, which is ideal for breeding and producing a healthy calf.”

Weeds not only rob forage of water and other soil nutrients, they can also become toxic and cause health problems for cattle. “Both drought and excessive rainfall can promote the growth of toxic weeds that can harm cattle,” Clark says. “If producers have a plan to control those weeds through the timely use of herbicides, their pastures should provide more forage for good grazing.”

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Dr. Scott Flynn, field specialist for Dow AgroSciences in Lee’s Summit, Mo., says the proactive approach to weed control starts with developing a plan to manage the types of weeds known to populate your pasture. Ranchers must also prepare for other weeds that have been found in your area.

“The rule of thumb is for every pound of weeds you remove from a pasture, you gain a pound of forage,” Flynn says. “So weed management is critical. Producers need to work with their pasture management consultant or local Extension specialist to develop a herbicide prescription best for weed control in their area.”