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They Teach Livestock To Eat Toxic Weeds
Canadian thistles are tough to treat, but can be delicious to eat. And, with as much protein as alfalfa, they are nutritious too. With a tried-and-true technique, some Canadian producers have trained their livestock to eat and enjoy the prickly weed in just five days.
  “The biggest thing is to learn that they’re good to eat. They learn to manipulate the thistle in their mouths,” says Kari Bondaroff, Invasive Plant Program Manager with the Peace River Regional District in Dawson Creek, B.C. Working with the Peace River Forage Association on a two-year research project, Bondaroff arranged for Kathy Voth of Loveland, Colo. (www.livestockforlandscapes.com) to coach producers how to train livestock to want to eat undesirable plants.
  “It works with positive feedback by introducing feeds with weird textures,” Bondaroff says. “It’s easy for producers. We’re not locking the animals up or affecting their routine. We’re not starving them; we’re offering them healthy snacks.”
  Livestock were given treats twice a day in bins for 4 days. Everything from milled flax to horse crunchies to peas and beet pulp were feeds the animals liked, but all had different textures. On day five, the bins were filled with chopped thistles – and the animals ate that too.
  The lesson transferred to the pasture for many of the animals.
  “We watched one group of heifers. These girls showed off and they ate thistles, flowers, seed heads and leaves. The goats stripped the thistles from the ground all the way to the top. Sheep nipped the tops,” Bondaroff says.
  Without any additional training, one herd ate stinging nettle. Another herd ate curly dock and sow thistle.
  “It’s exciting to see them try things,” Bondaroff says.
  Older cows are less excited to eat the weeds, she adds. Young cattle are much more adaptable, as are sheep and goats.
  “We want to give producers a cost efficient tool. The cattle benefit from the weeds, and the producer doesn’t have to use chemicals (to eliminate thistles),” she explains. “We haven’t done a cost analysis, but for less than $200 for feed and five days of their time, they now have 40 to 50 animals working for them, cleaning up the farm.”
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Kari Bondaroff, Peace River Regional District, Box 810, 1981 Alaska Ave., Dawson Creek, B.C. V1G 4H8 (ph 250 784-3200; www.prrd.bc.ca; Kari.Bondaroff@prrd.bc.ca).

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2015 - Volume #39, Issue #6