Grazing – Cameron de Wolf
This technique enables a producer to avoid the negative effects of utilizing tillage (or other methods) as a primary weed management tool. It also creates a situation where production animals can be used to manage weeds. Using grazing as a broad-spectrum biocontrol option can control several weed species in a variety of crops, but requires intensive management in most cases. Grazing can be applied in-crop, out-of-crop, and in fallow conditions to manage weeds in different times during the growing season.
The management of leafy spurge is most effective with sheep. As well, sheep and goats will consume weeds closer to the soil surface than cattle or horses, and will consume thistles. Goats prefer woody plant species. Geese can be used for selective grass management. Weed seeds, insects, and soil invertebrates are preferred by chickens, as their diet is not limited to plants. Pigs can be applied towards perennial weed control (as destructive grazers). Cattle and horses can be used for the management of grassy weeds. Animal species must be subjected to the weeds they prefer the most in order for management to be most effective (palatability). Animals must be “released” early in a planned, extensive approach.
Palatability to different kinds of livestock must be considered when implementing a grazing strategy. Associated issues, such as blister beetle on kochia, can negatively affect a grazing animal. Overall, grazing animals prefer tender, young seedlings, not mature plants. As well, livestock species cannot be in-crop for 90 or 120 days before harvesting organics. Animal nutrition must be at the forefront of a grazing strategy, as the well-being and growth of the animals is imperative.
This depends if the farming operation is set up as mixed or crop-only. If the specific livestock/animal species is already being raised, costs will likely be much lower. If livestock has to be purchased or brought in by transport, costs will likely be quite high. A mixed farm has the ability to utilize most weeds, mowings, or chaff as a cheap, nutritious feed source. The cost of developing fencing, different management practices, etc. may be expensive in the short run, but will likely have positive long-run effects. In regards to ecological costs, they can be quite low if grazing is implemented appropriately (mob grazing, etc.). However, if the plant communities are allowed to be drastically affected by overgrazing, species shift may occur (and less palatable weeds/plants have the potential to become more abundant).
If implemented in an intensive management program with the necessary knowledge, grazing can be quite effective. However, I don’t think this technique is for everyone, especially those who view themselves as strictly “crop producers”. Also, it must be kept in mind that in many cases, weed management is selective for a specific animal species.
Frick, B., and Johnson, E. Nd. Livestock and other beneficial organisms for weed management. http://www.organicagcentre.ca/extension/ext_weed_livestock.asp (accessed March 1, 2014).
Organic Agriculture Centre of Canada. Nd. Extension Resources – Organic swine production. http://www.organicagcentre.ca/Extension/livestock_swine.asp (accessed March 1, 2014).
Organic Farming Blog. 2013. Raising livestock the organic way. http://www.organicfarmingblog.com/raising-livestock-organic-farming/ (accessed March 1, 2014).
Woven Meadows. Nd. Eggs. http://wovenmeadows.com/pastured-poultry/eggs/ (accessed March 1, 2014).
Using Chickens as Seed Predators – Garth Stang
Weed seeds can remain in the soil for a long time, constantly germinating and causing problems for the farmer who has to deal with them every year. Depleting this soil weed seed bank can greatly reduce the amount of weeds growing in a field, which will reduce the cost of control and the cost of damage. Chickens are excellent seed scavengers and will dig up the top layer of soil searching for weed seeds to eat. When they consume them, they destroy the seeds, decreasing the amount of seeds in the ground. Chickens will also eat weed seedlings, as well as insects, and their manure will fertilize the field, providing many benefits to a crop.
A structure, often called a chicken tractor, is often used to keep the chickens from wandering off. It is basically a mobile pen that can easily be moved around to different patches for weed control. This system is typically used in gardens and on a small scale, but with the right amount of chickens and with proper management, the system could be used on a larger scale.
Chickens can be easy prey for many predators like weasels, foxes, and coyotes, so it is important to protect them. You must make sure that your chicken tractor is sturdy, able to keep chickens in, predators out, as well as be mobile.
The costs of operating this system would be the cost of the chickens, chicken tractor, and the time needed to check on the chickens and move the tractor, although all these costs would likely be offset by the income received from the eggs.
I think this tool can be very valuable in weed prevention, as well as fertilization. It has more of an application in gardening than in grain fields, but can still be very valuable. There is also the benefit of getting eggs from the chickens.
http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/751415/chicken-weed-abatement-using-chickens-to-mow-your-weeds-with-video, http://simple-green-frugal-co-op.blogspot.ca/2010/10/chickens-weed-my-garden.html, http://oldworldgardenfarms.com/2013/08/20/why-a-great-garden-and-raising-chickens-go-hand-in-hand/.