East Texas Ag News: Two opposing ranches

*NOTE: This is a stock photo.
*NOTE: This is a stock photo.(PxHere / MGN)
Published: Aug. 3, 2023 at 4:41 PM CDT
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LUFKIN, Texas (KTRE) - Working with a variety of landowners is my bread and butter. New landowners and old timers alike seek information from our office on some aspect of their property. Topics range from pond to pasture, lawn to landscape, garden to orchard, and any other topic related to what’s happening outside.

In the span of a week, I had the opportunity to visit two properties, two completely different pastures, with two very different owners who wanted the same outcome. Both wanted to increase their stocking rate for cattle.

The first place was newly purchased and had sat vacant over the winter. It was nearly 100 acres that, presently, couldn’t support 11 thin cows. The acreage was nearly completely consumed with ‘Goatweed’ (our local name for Wooly Croton) and Bitterweed (also known as Bitter sneezeweed). These two broad-leafed annual weeds are not at all what cattle want or need.

Goatweed is called Doveweed in the western portions of Texas yet is properly called a Croton. There are actually 20 species of croton that grow in Texas. I’ve noticed two on my travels around the county. To be sure, you can probably find at least a few of these growing in almost any pasture. We see this weed in abundance on pastures that have poor grass coverage, on ground that has recently been disturbed, or in areas that have been overgrazed.

Woolly croton produces seeds that are very valuable to dove, quail and other seed-eating birds but are of low value for livestock grazing.

But the yellow-flowered Bitterweed is a “whole ‘nother problem”. It is widely known for its toxicity. A sesquiterpene lactone is responsible for the toxicity of bitter sneezeweed, which is greatest at time of flowering. This bitter plant is seldom consumed at a level high enough to produce clinical signs. However, it has been responsible for bitter, undrinkable milk and is suspected to be the cause of unpalatable meat from calves slaughtered off the range.

Bitterweed is an erect, upper-branching native annual, summer broadleaf that reach 10 to 20 inches tall. The entire plant of both varieties has a strong odor and is bitter to the taste. If baled in hay, the toxin is stable and can affect livestock being fed that hay sometime later.

Livestock that have ingested bitter sneezeweed can show poisoning symptoms to include weakness, lack of coordination, vomiting, excessive salivation, diarrhea, and grinding of teeth.

This first property was under new ownership and has a long way to go.

The second pasture has been managed from the mid-1950′s for cattle production and the current cattleman is really in the business of fine tuning the pastures for optimum grazing ability. His two weed problems that he was fighting are Smutgrass and Vaseygrass.

Smutgrass is a tuft-forming, non-native perennial weed in many improved perennial grass pastures throughout the southern states. As a warm-season perennial, smutgrass remains dormant in the winter, begins growing in the spring, and produces seed from April to November.

Smutgrass can be identified by a tuft that is typically 8 to 10 inches in diameter with foliage 6 to 19 inches tall. By late spring, stems are often found protruding 1 to 3.5 feet

Smutgrass has the ability to adapt to almost all soil types and competes aggressively against desirable forages. While cattle may graze on tender regrowth following mowing or prescribed fire, they will not preferentially consume mature Smutgrass.

Vaseygrass is another grass-type weed. Being a grass, none of the safe and effective broad-leafed herbicides will touch it. Vaseygrass has a much lower nutritional value than our improved pasture and hay grasses. Cattle will graze it when it is immature, but they avoid it as it matures. This avoided grass then continues to grow and spread untouched. In a hay field, it lowers the overall quality of the hay produced and can present curing challenges with its large stems.

The second landowner has little to no broad-leafed weeds and is employing a wick application of glyphosate to his spot treat his undesirable grass weeds. The first landowner is against using herbicides and are facing the dire reality of mowing down the weeds, which will likely reduce the grazable grasses in the short term.

It takes time and experience to effectively run any business, especially an agricultural business that is heavily influenced by the climate. With the short-term looking pretty rough with the heat and lack of rainfall, times are getting tough for anyone in agriculture. Planning ahead, knowing the vegetation you have present, and knowing that you have plenty of forage for your cattle is crucial to reduce trainwrecks and have any chance to be profitable.

As we face continued drought conditions, the Angelina County Extension office will hold a Pasture Herbicide Update and Winter-Feeding Seminar on Aug 15 from 6:30- 8:30 pm at the Angelina County Extension Office. This will be a general review of new and existing herbicide options and winter feeding strategies for stockmen. No fee to attend.


Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu .