The Briar Experiment by Mark Brownlee
had one corner of a paddock that was pretty thick with briars as tall as 4 feet (1.3 m). I also had multiflora rose and a variety of sprouts, some big tall weeds. I put the cows in there to graze what they could and to trample as much as possible without being too hard on animal performance. Those briars make moving polywire a real challenge. I had noticed that there are no briars in the farm lanes so it seemed to me that there must be a threshold of abuse that the briars could not handle. I thought it would be great if I could use stock density to provide the abuse, but the cows made paths through them and then stick to their paths. I noticed while walking through the briars if I stepped on the big stemmy ones, quite often they would stay flat on the ground. If I had a way to get them flat on the ground, the grass would have a chance to grow over them and smother them out. Also, the next time through the paddock, the cows would now walk on top of any briar laying down flat. I tried mowing them, which looks really good, but they immediately start regrowing from the roots, and the grass cannot get ahead of them. I believe that once my desirable forages get thick enough I can outcompete the briars with the help of stock density. I first thought of knocking down the briars with a field disk, but opted for two fresh cut cedar trees chained together and dragged behind my tractor. It doesnâ€™t get them all, but it was a huge improvement. I started with that first patch in September 2009 and liked the results well enough to do all the rest of my paddocks that had a briar problem in the fall of 2009. In the spring and summer of 2010 where the briars had been very thick, grass and clover came in. I also had lots of new briar seedlings. It seems to me that high density grazing stimulates every seed in the groundâ€”good and bad. My method thus far has been to graze these areas first with two per day moves and let the cows graze and trample as much as possible. Then I drag over the briars. My recovery currently is over 120 days, so it will be quite a while before the cows are back. I don't have any real conclusions about timing on this method yet. I have been wondering if the time of year might be a major factor in how effective this method is. The one thing I am certain of that there is a level of abuse that briars cannot withstand because my farm lanes have hardly any briars at all. Most people with a briar problem would use a chemical application for the entire field and maybe that is what I should have done years ago, but I have a problem with killing all of my clover and native prairie forbs. It seems that some areas that I treated with the cedar tree last year are much better this year, while some areas are only a little better this year. Brushhogging seems to only stimulate briars, and they are already The area on the right in this photo has had the cedar tree dragged over it. The area on the left has not been done yet. You can see the large areas with briars. This hill side has never had much grass on it, mostly broom sedge and a little bit of little bluestem. 12
Land & Livestock
November / December 2010
This is a lead plant photo taken around the middle of August 2010 on the same rocky hillside as the photo below.
This is the steep shallow hillside. This photos was take during a dry spell in the summer of 2010, but this hillside is as green as if it had been watered, thick with little blue stem and other native species. This is the third year of high density grazing on this farm.
growing back in a week or so, while dragging them flat gives the grass a chance to grow over the top of them. I'm fairly convinced my theory is correct, but I am not sure I have figured out the best method yet because many of the shorter briars spring right back up. The exciting part to me is that for years I have fought the briar and sprout problem, and really was starting to fall further behind. Now with the tool of high stock density and using the cedars to help with the herd effect, I feel that I have finally started to win the battle. To tell the complete story, I have to admit that I spot spray rose bushes and small clumps of briars. That may not be completely holistic, but I opted for this as opposed to spraying the whole field. I still have too much farmer in me. What I have noticed about the briars is that there are very few seed bearing plants this year. I believe that nearly all of the briars that I have are new plants. Whether they grew from seed or from old roots I cannot say for sure. This area was recently grazed (July 2010) at around 150,000 pounds/acre (kg/ha) stock density. You can see that the blackberry briars are still standing. Cows make paths through them leaving the briars and a lot of other plant material standing.
Published on Dec 14, 2011
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