Controlling Thistles by Digging And Grazing

Controlling Thistles by Digging And Grazing

June 6, 2008

Learning from Experience


Musk thistles are coming into full bloom, requiring timely control so the seed doesn't spread. If you're like me, this may not be a task you relish, but I've learned some things over time that have helped me minimize the task and still keep my pastures pretty clean.

A couple weekends ago I spent some time digging musk thistles out of my pastures at home. Yes, I get them too. But not very many. I don't have a lot of pasture so it took me only a couple of hours to dig all the thistles I could find.

Part of the pasture I use belongs to a neighbor. When he saw me digging, he came out to visit. He noticed there were a lot fewer thistles in his pastures now compared to what he had a few years ago before I started using them. And I didn't spray like his previous tenants. He also remembered all the thistles in my own pastures years ago when I first started grazing them and asked what I was doing differently.

I told him I sprayed my pastures the first year because thistles were so thick I couldn't possibly control them by hand. But I didn't like spraying and definitely didn't like spending $10 an acre for spraying. So in subsequent years, all I've done is use the shovel. Plus, I pick off the blossoms and carry them home to destroy since sometimes viable seeds still develop after digging.

Just as important as digging is my grazing management. I move cattle on a timely basis to keep the grasses and legumes healthy, thick, and regrowing vigorously. The competition from the grasses do most of my thistle control because the dense stands don't leave any bare or unshaded area for new thistle seedlings to get started.

That's my secret — reduce seeds available and enhance competition. It's not complicated, but it does takes diligence and a little time. Try it yourself and you too may have fewer thistles in a few years.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist

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