Josh Blanek

Texas rangelands support many species of brush and weeds. The continual increase over years in the number and distribution of brush and weed species is primarily the result of natural succession, suppression of wildfires, and overgrazing by livestock. Rangeland owners and ranchers need the ability to manage the occurrence of brush and weed species on their property. To do so effectively, there are numerous decisions and considerations that need to be made, including: selection and timing of treatments; pre and post treatment management; post treatment resource responses; monitoring; maintenance programs; and impacts on other resource uses and real estate value, risks, and financial constraints. Each day I receive phone calls and have people dropping by that have been given the wrong information. I hope this article that I have taken from the Rangeland Risk Management website will help clear up some common misconceptions.

Weed and brush control produces more grass. Weeds and brush compete with more desirable vegetation for soil moisture, nutrients and space. However, controlling weeds and/or brush does not guarantee increased production of more desirable plants. There must be at least a remnant seed stock of desirable plants remaining before treatment. Also, post-treatment management (grazing, maintenance treatments, etc.) must allow beneficial plants to recover and sustain production over time. If the area has had a history of abuse and overgrazing, this seed stock will not be present and less desirable or undesirable plants may flourish following treatment.

Weed and brush control increases ranch profit. Weed and brush control treatments are expensive. The costs and benefits of all options must be evaluated before treatments are implemented. Factors to consider include not only the initial cost of treatment, but also the life of the treatment, costs and frequency of maintenance treatments, projected forage response, impacts on other ranch enterprises (wildlife, recreation, etc.) and risk.

One treatment will do it! Weed and brush control treatments are not permanent, and in fact, many are very short lived. Most often, in order to recover the cost of the initial treatment, treatment life must be prolonged through integration of periodic low cost maintenance treatments. This requires the development and use of a comprehensive long-term weed and/or brush management plan.

All brush and weeds are bad. Attempts to control undesirable weeds and brush for livestock production can result in significant damage to desirable plants needed by wildlife. Wildlife depend on woody and broadleaf plants for food and cover. The importance of wildlife to the ranch business must be considered before weed or brush management practices are implemented. Planning should protect key plant species and habitat “honey holes” preferred by important wildlife populations. Learn to identify your desirable plants and their values to livestock and wildlife. Select the “best” approach to achieve your combination of goals, understanding that it is impossible to maximize production for all enterprises, but it is possible to optimize benefits.

A little more will do it! Increasing the amount of herbicide applied beyond recommended rates will not produce more kill. In fact, increased rates may result in rapid defoliation but significantly less root kill, all at a higher cost. Recommended rates have been researched to achieve the best results, at the least cost, while protecting the environment. Read herbicide labels carefully and follow the directions explicitly. Contact your local County Extension Agent for specific information on the use of herbicides in your area.

My neighbor told me! There is a multitude of home-concocted weed and brush control treatments passed through the grapevine. BEWARE!!! Most are not as effective as those recommendations you will receive from the Extension Service, NRCS or the herbicide label. In fact, some of the recommendations may be dangerous to you, to livestock and wildlife, and to the environment. In fact, many may be illegal. When a neighbor or salesperson at the local feed store suggests a specific treatment, check the label to make sure it is accurate, safe and legal.

That brush is not causing any problems now, so I will wait until it gets big and thick and then I will kill it. It is much easier and less expensive to kill seedling and saplings as compared to mature brush. Low density, small brush can be treated using individual plant treatment techniques, which usually provide a much higher level of control as compared to broadcast applications. Unfortunately, the cost of using individual plant treatments increases as the number and size of the brush increases. This is not true of most broadcast treatments. Thus, the importance of treating brush problems early. It is simply the “common sense” approach to brush control. Deterioration of the desirable vegetation can be prevented if brush is controlled early in its life cycle.

We are going to treat this place from fenceline to fenceline. Many range sites simply do not have the potential to produce results that will justify the expense of a weed or brush control treatment because soils are too shallow or slopes are too steep. Weed and brush control efforts are best targeted to sites with deep soils that receive runoff from adjacent upland areas. Shallow ridges, slopes and hilltops are usually best left as wildlife habitat or placed at a much lower priority for treatment as compared to more productive areas.

After I get that bulldozer in here, this place will turn into a sea of grass. Weed and brush management is not a miracle cure for rangelands. Not all treatments work the same every time. Most herbicide treatments are characterized by large variation in results governed by climatic and plant characteristics, which are often not very predictable. Overall management of the rangeland must also improve. The treated area must be given time to establish a desirable vegetation cover before “normal” management and use occurs. Proper livestock stocking rates are critical to both treatment success and longevity. Desired results will not occur overnight. Desired change on rangelands takes time and depends on long-range planning, careful monitoring and sound management.

Herbicides are unhealthy for the environment and humans. Herbicides can affect living organisms directly when exposed to chemicals or indirectly when habitat is altered. Range herbicides are invaluable for control of many susceptible species, see label. Toxicity to humans and wildlife have been evaluated and are identified on the label. However, common table salt and aspirin are more toxic than most rangeland herbicides. The label identifies proper rates and timing of herbicide applications to minimize risks; follow label directions.

Fire destroys the pasture! Rangeland vegetation is adapted to periodic burning. Some fires can be very destructive if proper management is not followed before and following the fire. Livestock and wildlife are attracted to the recent burns and can over graze the burned area. Recovery following a wild or prescribed fire is needed before grazing occurs. Properly planned prescribed fires are very beneficial in many range situations.

For more information contact Josh Blanek at the Texas AgriLife Extension Office in Somervell County at 254-897-2809 or email at j-blanek@tamu.edu.