As I drive to work this time of year, especially prior to the winter grazing season and after a major drought, I can easily see the invasion of broomsedge is on.
Broomsedge is an indicator plant, meaning it is a symptom of a larger problem. That problem is typically, poor fertility. Usually, this warm season grass thrives in areas where phosphorus is low, or where the soil is so acidic that phosphorus is tied up and cannot be used by the plant. You may have heard that broomsedge means the soil needs liming. That may be part of the problem, but most likely it needs fertility too. I get it, fertilizer is expensive, but so is feed this year.
Big round bales of mature broomsedge are not quality protein sources and offer little in the field of nutritional value. This being said, it really does not offer much as a filler because cattle will not eat it unless their bellies are empty and it is the only thing they have available. In this situation, cattle will be losing weight from lack of a quality nutritional sources. Broomsedge does not work as a stockpiled forage like tall fescue. Cows nursing calves will produce less milk thus; calves will not be growing and/or gaining as well.
Purchasing this type of forage is truly wasted dollars from your operation no matter how cheap the bales are.
Even if the nutritional value was great, it would not matter since livestock do not usually consume mature broomsedge. This plant is just in the way and takes the place of more desirable grasses and legumes, so controlling it is necessary.
Using broomsedge to carry your cows is a losing proposition. Especially when trying to feed big round bales, as many that sell them, will price them like quality hay due to the drought. Do not let someone tell you it beats a snowbank. If you are using it for bedding that might be different, as some cows might pick through it but not much. Brood cows will drop weight unless you add expensive feed grain and/or by-products. As quoted from the October 29, 2022 Buffalo Livestock Auction Facility weekly report, “As we move into winter, many poor/thin flesh animals are moving. Lots of these cows have zero value to the human food chain!” Thus, prices will be very low for these animals if they are brought to the sale barn in lean conditions and you might be disappointed.
As I said, you may have heard that broomsedge means the soil needs liming. That may be true since lime is added to correct the acidity of the soil and make phosphorus and other nutrients more available. However, since the problem could also be related to the soil being deficient in phosphorus to begin with, a soil test should be done before lime or fertilizer is added.
Unfortunately, adding lime or phosphorus doesn’t mean all the broomsedge will be gone next year. Fertilizer and lime do not kill the broomsedge, but instead creates an environment that is more favorable to desirable grasses, such as tall fescue and orchardgrass.
Of all the soil test received over the years in my office, dealing with pasture and/or hay fields, phosphorus was the number one nutrient least likely to be available in sufficient amounts for obtainable production. This becomes a limiting factor in production, as the soil is not balanced. Often fields are stripped of their mineral nutrients due to repeated yearly haying thus removing the nutrients from the field as you remove the forage to be fed in other locations. I find this to be a common practice on rented ground or ground mowed, raked, and baled as an ascetic practice for free hay to the custom operator. In either case, fertility is never applied to replace the nutrients being removed. Broomsedge is a perennial and cannot be mowed, burnt, or bush hogged away.
Grazing is another management problem often associated with broomsedge. First and foremost, broomsedge is not a quality grass, however, in late spring/early summer when it reaches heights of six to ten inches, cattle will eat limited amounts. Often when cattle overgraze early cool season pastures, broomsedge steps in as a warm season plant and crowds out other wanted forage species.
Fields do not normally become heavily infested overnight and will not be cured overnight. In one experimental study in Missouri, it took 4-5 years for broomsedge to be nearly eliminated through proper fertilization based on soil tests. Patience is required, but changes to fertility and grazing management will eventually be rewarded by a better stand of forage and a decrease of broomsedge and other weeds.
Choosing to do nothing about broomsedge only allows it to take control of your forage land. This in turn means less pasture to graze and more feed to be purchased. Or maybe you will just have to cut your cow herd to meet the current production level at hand, thus decreasing your next year’s calf crop. Either way you are losing potential profit. Just a thought.