Détente, At Last
(Published Summer 2013)
The battle began many years ago, back in the tough old days when we grew silage corn on the bottomland along the creek. It started with just a sprig here and there, evolved into clusters, then in the blink of an eye exploded into a jungle. Johnsongrass. Scourge of the south, beast of the bottoms, fearsome and foul as Grendel’s mother. In the old days we learned quickly that Johnsongrass is a rhizome grass that spreads like wildfire and takes over fields in a flash, almost before you even know it’s there. We used a product called Eradicaine to control it, but the control didn’t last long and it was very expensive, not to mention scary. For the product to work you had to plow the land then spray the Eradicaine, and the disk had to follow the spray within a minute or so, which afforded great opportunity for herbicide ingestion. And you had to do the same thing every year.
After a year or two of this we stopped growing corn, which was a positive move, but we converted the bottomland to hay. Johnsongrass barely noticed the change and really began to thrive. You could make a good first cutting of hay but after that the eight-foot monster would take over.
I tried bush-hogging it to give the second-cutting grass/clover a chance and learned you won’t find much that’s tougher to bush-hog than Johnsongrass. And bush-hogging really stimulates its growth.
I finally learned how to kill it, eventually. You just continuous graze it. Shoot, that will kill just about anything.
But as time passed and management evolved I noticed during paddock shifts that the cows swarmed to the Johnsongrass first. They’d strip the leaves off it before they’d even think about eating the clover. I began to consider that if the cows liked it that much it might, just possibly, be good for them, so I did a little research and found it is comparable to alfalfa in crude protein and equal to timothy in TDN. SHAZZAM!
This battle is over. I’ve been grazing it for 5-6 years now and am glad to have it. Johnsongrass is extremely drought resistant, it’s very palatable, high-yielding, and as far as I can tell requires no fertilizer and no maintenance. You don’t have to buy seed, either; if it shows up on your place it’s there to stay, unless you continuous graze. Makes fabulous hay, too, if you’re into all that. For years it would only grow in bottomland in our area but lately I’m seeing it on topland too.
I don’t know if it’s due to climate change or plant adaptation. Probably both, but it doesn’t bother me that it’s moving uphill—the cows like it there too. If you read about Johnsongrass you’ll notice many warnings that it kills cattle. Keep in mind the same is said of alfalfa, clover, and sudangrass. I’ve had no problems with it at all, but waiting until it’s eight or nine inches tall before grazing will eliminate most of the alarms. I’ve done a terrible job of managing it and thus have grazed it everywhere from eight inches in height to eight feet, with no problems whatsoever. One should graze it when it’s 2-3 feet high for maximum production and palatability, but I tend to graze it when the cows happen to rotate around to those particular fields. The strife is over. Shedding old battles and old habits allows more time for positive endeavors, like building polywire paddocks. Or thinking about important things, like beauty and truth.
- Guille Yeaarwood -