Believe it or not, it’s already time to talk about weed control. Getting a handle on weeds early in the spring is the most cost-effective, chore-effective way of dealing with these persistent nuisances.

First off, good pasture management is the best weed control there is. Healthy grass will prevent weeds from becoming established and also keep horses from being tempted to nibble on weeds when they do show up. Most weeds can’t withstand mowing, so keeping pastures mowed to a healthy grass height (five to six inches tall) will keep grass productive and discourage weeds from spreading or going to seed. Also, make sure you use certified weed-free pasture grass seed mix on your property, and that the hay you buy is weed-free.

Weed burner

A weed burner is a non-toxic alternative to herbicide use that works particularly well in areas like driveways.

Minimize herbicide use whenever possible, especially near any surface waters such as wetlands, lakes, ditches and streams, by removing weeds by mechanical methods rather than with chemicals. Chemical herbicides can be harmful to horses and are very toxic to fish and other aquatic life, as well as to native vegetation. It is easy for chemicals sprayed on weeds to wash off in the rain and travel into our water systems, including the ones we drink from. Most waterways these days have residuals of herbicides, mainly from overuse and/or misuse. Check with your county weed control agency if you have a question about your legal responsibilities. If you do decide to use herbicides, be sure to use the right product for the specific weed. Your conservation district, extension agent or county weed control agency can help with identifying your weed, choosing the appropriate herbicide, and determining the best time of year to apply it. The best application method is to spot spray following manufacturer directions instead of spraying or spreading chemicals on large areas. Don’t think that if a little is good, a lot is better; you could do serious damage to your land and the environment. Always read and follow directions carefully, and avoid spraying on windy days or when it is expected to rain soon.

Cinnabar moth caterpillar

The caterpillar of the Cinnabar moth is an integrated pest management technique used for controlling tansy ragwort.

Here are some other less toxic weed control methods to consider:

1. Practice good pasture management
       Establish a sacrifice area
       Never graze below 3-4 inches
       Practice rotational grazing
       Keep horses off winter pastures
2. Hand-remove weeds and either compost them or send them to the landfill if they are toxic or highly invasive.
3. A weed burner is a non-toxic alternative to herbicide use that works particularly well in areas like driveways.
4. Spot spray using the appropriate herbicide at the recommended time of the year
5. Check out Integrated Pest Management techniques, which use beneficial insects or other organisms to help control an invasive species. An example of this is the Cinnabar moth, which is a control for tansy ragwort.

Want a little more info on toxic weeds in horse pastures? Watch this video.