Livestock for Landscapes Header
Share |
Menu Bar Home about Contact Store Blog Newsletter Speaker Requests Cows Eat Weeks Prescribed Goat Grazing
Find a prescribed grazier
CD Handbook
Goat Pointer

Cows and Leafy Spurge


When I first started teaching cows to eat weeds in 2004, I had heard a lot of the same information that you may have heard. Sheep and goats can eat it but cows can't.  The sap can cause irritation or burning in the mouth and digestive system, skin irritation and diarrhea.  This basic sentence is included in most texts on leafy spurge.

On the other hand, I knew that cows on the Rex Ranch in Nebraska were eating spurge. So, in spite of the science, but with a healthy dose of caution, I went ahead with trying to get cows to eat leafy spurge

I wasn't able to try them on the weed in pasture until the summer of 2005. By the end of the summer, the cows had demonstrated that they could and would eat leafy spurge in pasture and I was still seeing no negative effects. They stripped leaves and flowers from the stalks, and once I let them out into the newly mown hayfield adjacent to the trail pasture, they returned to finish off the patch of leafy spurge they had been working on.  Though I have no actual data, I observed that when the cows had more variety they ate more spurge, and when I put them in trial pastures with less variety, they ate less leafy spurge.

In 2007, Lester Pryce, Saskatchewan's Prairie Farm Restoration Administration Community Pasture Land Manager, decided to try my training process on leafy spurge himself. He was surprised at the willingness of the cattle to eat spurge in training and at calf behavior. "If green crested wheat and leafy spurge were put in a tub, often the calves would eat the spurge and leave the grass."  When the cattle were left to graze a 30-acre pasture to 50% utilization he found that every leafy spurge plant had been grazed to some degree.

Pryce said of his experiment, "We learned that it is definitely possible to train cattle to eat new foods using Kathy's cattle training process, and that there may be a possibility for producers to develop a very low cost method for training cattle to consume problematic weeds on our rangelands."

BASF, maker of Plateau herbicide says "Unlike many invasive weeds, which usually spread in broad, continuous swaths, leafy spurge can also spread in patches - popping up sporadically across grasslands. This makes it extremely difficult - if not impossible - to find all infested areas and control them effectively year-to-year without a solid vegetation management strategy in place." If your cows are out there already, perhaps they're a perfect solution to this weed.

Heifer eats leafy spurge Heifer eats leafy spurge
Grant-Kohrs Ranch heifers eating leafy spurge

How big is the Leafy Spurge Problem?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that leafy spurge has doubled its acreage every 10 years since the early 1900s, despite ongoing efforts to restrict its spread.

They also estimate that leafy spurge infestations in the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming alone cost approximately $144 million in lost production and control expenses annually.

Click here to read one of my columns on Leafy Spurge.

Plant Information

Cow Pointer