The Stockman Grass Farmer


October 27, 2011

BOZEMAN, Montana: Research at Montana State University Sheep Institute indicates that sheep actually prefer leafy spurge and knapweed to grass.

Leafy spurge and knapweed are invasive weeds in cattle-only grazed pastures.

In the Montana studies with sheep, there was a 60 to 70% utilization of leafy spurge and a 30 to 40% utilization of grass.

In similar studies looking at knapweed, there was a 50 to 60% utilization of knapweed and a 30 to 40% utilization of grass and a 10% utilization of forbs.

Nutritionally the two noxious weeds were found to be similar to alfalfa.

Apparently, sheep largely avoid toxins in the weeds by only eating the leaves and flowers of the plant and ignoring the stem.

They also dilute the toxins by eating some grass and forbs.

In pastures grazed by sheep for at least two years, the leafy spurge composition decreased about nine percent per year, while the grass component increased by 10 percent.

The research suggests that grazing sheep on cattle-only ranches can positively impact ranch profitability.

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