Conditioning Cattle to Graze Broom Snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrea)

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J. Anim. Sci.



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Broom snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) is the most widespread range weed in North America. We attempted to positively condition cattle to graze broom snakeweed to create a biological tool to decrease the competitive ability of snakeweed in a plant community. Fifteen yearling heifers were divided into three treatment groups receiving different supplements: 1) cornstarch, 2) starch with ground snakeweed, and 3) a control (no supplements). Heifers were fed fresh snakeweed, and then were gavaged with the respective supplements to provide positive feedback to enhance their acceptance of snakeweed. The starch group consumed more snakeweed in the pen conditioning trial (P = 0.02). The starch and control groups were then taken to the field for two grazing trials. In the spring grazing trial, there was no snakeweed consumed in the free-ranging part of the trial; however, when the pasture size was decreased, the heifers started to consume snakeweed as alternative forages became less abundant. In the second small pasture trial, heifers in the positively conditioned group consumed more snake-weed than those in the control group (16 vs. 5% of bites, P < 0.001). In the fall grazing trial, little snakeweed was consumed in the free-ranging part of the trial. When the pasture size was decreased, both positively conditioned and control groups increased snakeweed consumption up to 35% of bites. In the small pastures of both the spring and fall grazing trials, 36 to 59% of snakeweed plants were grazed. Cattle can be forced to graze snake-weed in a short-duration, high-intensity grazing strategy.