Weeds. What do you think of when you hear the word? Your lawn? Getting high? My husband uses the phrase “in the weeds” when someone is giving too much detail or is bogged down in something.
Weeds is one of those words that has a uniquely functional meaning on a farm. Here, weeds are anything our livestock won’t eat. The same plant you may curse on your lawn may be a delicacy to a goat, a cow or a hog.
Goats, contrary to many general depictions, are browsers. Browsers pick and choose the plants they like or feel (if there’s a variety) like eating. Yes, they will eat some grass, but they prefer many other crunchy delights. Poison ivy, kudzu (an invasive, coiling vine in the South), clover, dandelions and thistles are a few greens goats go ga ga over. Comically, the hay they require daily better not be too “weedy” or you will find more of it on the ground than in their mouths.
Unlike goats, cows are true grazers. They wrap their sandpaper swathed tongues around handfuls and handfuls of grass, consuming about 2% of their body’s weight each day. They strategically skip over weeds or other undesirables, but will clear the rest of a pasture area.
Hogs on pasture will eat grass, weeds, roots, acorns, you name it! Unlike cows and goats, a variety of pasture is typically not enough for growing or mature hogs. Scavengers by nature, hogs require supplemental feed. Regardless, hogs will spend most of their day foraging and sleeping.
Some forage and weeds can be toxic. If eaten in excess, some can even be fatal! Amazingly, animals will typically avoid toxic forage in instances where they have variety or plenty of other options. Regardless, it’s prudent to be aware of toxic plants and “weed” them out of your pastures.
Making the most of each pasture, the main source of feed, without degrading it, is an ongoing challenge for folks with livestock. Without getting too far “in the weeds” about rotational grazing and pasture maintenance, the key takeaway is having more than one type of livestock on a pasture can be beneficial for the animals and the land!