Using Herbicides on the Farm

Herbicides on the Farm

On our farm, we choose to use a variety of methods to control pests. Today we are going to focus on weed pests. In our pasture, driveway, and barnyard we use herbicides. I’ll tell you a little bit about why we choose to use them in certain areas and give you some information on how to use them safely, and how dangerous they are {spoiler alert: not as bad as everyone makes them out to be}. Before we even dive in, I want one message to be really clear: everyone’s farm requires different management practices AND those practices are most likely going to change over time. There is no one “right” or “wrong” way to manage certain aspects of your farm. Please don’t fall into that naive way of thinking just because you’re passionate about a certain management method that works best for your farm. Not only is it obnoxious, it’s completely ridiculous.

Why do we use herbicides?

Right now on our farm, we use herbicides because there is an overwhelming amount of weeds. When we purchased this property, it had not been managed at all for at least 4 years, and not managed well for a number of years before that. There were at least 15 different weed species spread throughout our 5 acres and probably more. The most effective way to nip this problem in the bud was to use an herbicide that would kill the most weeds possible while leaving the grass, so that is what we did. From there, we moved to a less-specific herbicide and spot treated problem areas, sacrificing some of the grass along the way.

What herbicides did we use?

We used pretty common herbicides you can pick up at your local farm store. To treat the majority of our weeds, we used a broad-leaf herbicide called 2-4 D. This herbicide allows you to spray something like a pasture and not kill the grass, only the broad-leaf weeds. It isn’t effective on some weeds, so we moved on to good old RoundUp from there. We spot treated problem areas, like our driveway and barnyard with the RoundUp because the puncture vine was so bad you would literally have to scrape them off the entire surface of your boots after walking anywhere on our property.

Each herbicide you buy will have specific instructions for application rates that are related to what you’re spraying, as well as application guidelines. The 2-4 D we purchased is only allowed to be sprayed every 30 days, twice a year. We typically only do one application. Since we only use RoundUp as a spot treatment, the application rules are more relaxed and we usually end up spot treating about three times a year.

A few reasons why we use herbicides on our farm and why you might want to consider using it as a weed control option as well.

How many different kinds of herbicides are there?

There are so many types of herbicides. They all have different specialties and are made for different uses. We were contacted by our county extension office this spring because we have a noxious weed {non-native and invasive plant} on our property that they wanted to come spray. I think this type of thing makes people mad sometimes – but really?! I was all for it. Why would you NOT want someone else to come treat a stubborn {not to mention noxious} weed on your property? If you have questions about what herbicide to use on your specific farm, don’t hesitate to contact your county extension office. They not only have all the information you will need, they often can loan or rent you the equipment AND herbicide you’ll need. This is really handy because both of those things can be pricy, and you may not even need very much.

Do you use only herbicides for weed control?

Nope. We have a few different methods for weed control. Right now our main method is herbicides, but we are gradually gaining the upper-hand with our weeds so I’m sure our methods will change in the future. We also mow everywhere on our property where there is grass – this favors the grass and is hard on the weeds. Weeds don’t tolerate being cut down on a regular basis very well. If you don’t have an overwhelming amount of weeds, this could be a good method to try. Just be sure that if you’re making hay with weedy grass you sell it as such and know the weeds present in it. No one wants bad grass hay when they weren’t planning on it {but some people will purposely purchase it from you if you’re honest}.

Additionally, we don’t spray in garden areas. In these areas I use a combination of good old weed pulling as well as deep straw cover in the fall. This really suffocates out the weeds and helps keep them under control in the spring. This year I think I finally have my garden where it’s going to stay, so I’ll put down a more permanent weed barrier in certain areas.

How poisonous are herbicides?

Great question. The answer, like everything else in life is this: the dose makes the poison. This is why following the application rates and guidelines is important. This principle has been explained very well in these two articles:

Glyphosate as a Carcinogen, Explained by  {This article explains what being listed as a 2A potential carcinogen means.}

The Dose Makes the Poison by Cami Ryan {this article has a super handy chart that compares common household things like coffee and baking soda to things we are concerned about being carcinogens, like glyphosate, which is RoundUp}.

Please take the time to read through these so you can have a better understanding of herbicides and how they would be able to have an effect on your health. Please contact me with additional questions or resources, I’d be happy to talk about it more!

Overall, when we spray we take precautions. We wear coveralls, gloves, put all the animals/kids inside and are sure to do it on a day that isn’t windy – which can be tricky here! Everything we use gets washed thoroughly and we are especially careful to wash hose nozzles really well and dilute areas where we washed and rinsed.  Additionally, all feeders and waterers are put in the barn – because I don’t want to wash those more than I have too! The individual herbicides have times listed on them for how long you will need to keep animals off the areas where you sprayed {this is true of fertilizer as well} and even though we don’t have pasture animals right now, we adhere to those same rules for the dogs and chickens.

Wrap Up

We use herbicides on our farm because it is the best thing for our land right now. Don’t believe me? Come on out and I’ll show you how much more productive our grass is, how we have significantly reduced the weed load {but still have a way to go}, and how we are finally gaining the upper-hand with the weeds – in only 3 years. Which, compared to the amount of time this property wasn’t managed, is a big deal!

We use other methods like cutting and hand pulling/weed barriers in areas where we don’t want to spray. And we are continually re-analyzing our situation and making adjustments to ALL of our treatment methods.

If you choose to use herbicides, follow the label, take safety precautions, and you and your animals will be totally fine! As Andy and I like to say: Just don’t be an idiot and it will work how it’s supposed too and you’ll be safe. {We are probably going to have to adjust that saying slightly as Abram gets older and we want to say it to him…ha!}

Tell me how you manage weeds on your farm!

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