Old-timers will tell you that if you take care of your grass, it’ll take care of you.

That’s easy advice to follow when it rains. But what do you do when it doesn’t?

Randy Blin says listening to the old-timers is even more critical when rainfall is scarce. “Weed control is more important in a drought than anything,” says Blin, co-owner of Star Lake Cattle Ranch, a registered Hereford outfit near Skiatook, in northeast Oklahoma. “Weeds grow best in a drought, more so than the grass. So it’s probably as important or more to have that knockdown.”

That’s what Blin and his management team learned as the deep red on the USDA Drought Monitor Map spread over the course of last spring and summer. The early knockdown they achieved last spring helped their old-world bluestem pastures and hay meadows survive what locals are calling the worst drought in 100 years.

Star Lake has implemented a rotational plan for pasture weed control. While conventional wisdom says there’s little return on that kind of management, it can pay in higher rainfall areas such as northeast Oklahoma.

Their weed warfare targets western ragweed, the predominant weed species plaguing their pastures and hay meadows. Working with a consultant familiar with the region, they took a critical look at what and how much weed control they could afford.

“We can’t afford to spray the whole ranch every year,” Blin says. “Number one, it’s not cost effective; number two, it’s not necessary.” But beyond that, Blin and his management team were at a loss as to where to start and how much to do. “There are a lot of things we do really well,” Blin says. “Agronomy is not one of them.”

So, working with Tad Bell with Helena Chemical, they developed a GPS map of the entire ranch. Not only did Bell bring the agronomic expertise they were looking for, but ranching experience as well. In the late ’80s, Bell managed the ranch across the road from Star Lake.

Using the GPS data, they segmented the ranch and looked at their pasture utilization. From that, they assigned a use-pressure number to each pasture ranging from one to 10. “When we get to the 8s, 9s and 10s, they get more weed control,” says Montie Soules, ranch manager. “The areas we graze heavy got good weed control. That made a huge difference for us because we had control where we needed it.”

Photo courtesy of Kanwaka Communications

The exercise had other benefits as well. “We’d never just sat down and graded every pasture,” Soules says. “When you discipline yourself with exercises like that, it makes you smarter about what you’re doing and where you’re doing it.”

This will be the fourth year of their planned rotational weed-control efforts. Short of a full-blown forage count, which they elected not to do, it’s hard to quantify exactly how much improvement has occurred over the past three years. But if the eye of the master can fatten a calf, it can evaluate pastures, too.

“There’s dramatically more grass available,” says Todd Herman, operations manager. “And it’s better quality.”