It’s early March and everything is brown, except for these tiny little green clumps that keep popping up in my lawn. They get worse each year.
Since my day job and the farm consume most of my time, there is little left to go around for general lawn detail. If it’s not bare dirt, I go with it.
After noticing the remarkable improvements our cows have made to our pastures since we started applying regenerative grazing techniques, I thought, “why can’t I use the cows to help the lawn?” My lawn is in terrible need of fertilization, has no cool season grass such as the fescue and bluegrass mix that makes up most lawns in our area. My yard mostly consists of common Bermuda grass, common crab grass, and dallisgrass; all of which are summer grasses, usually considered undesirable in a lawn, and they stay dormant until early June. Also, knowing that chemical fertilizer has an addictive effect on the land, I’m thinking, why start something that’s not going to benefit the soil in the long run. So, I decided to use the cows. My friends and neighbors thought I had lost my mind, and maybe that’s the case, but it was a fun and very educational experiment and I’m planning to make it an annual process and document the improvements.
When to do it
Since we are moving the cows frequently, I picked a time when they were in a pasture close to the house. This is in early spring and the cows were coming off some winter stockpile mixed with hay. The cows were moving on to a lush green pasture of cool season grasses and legumes. Since it very important to keep the animals full when changing their diets from stockpile to a legume mix, I decided this was the perfect time to kill two, three, four or more birds, with one big herd of stones.
Bird 1: Invasive Star of Bethlehem Plant taking over the lawn
Yep, that’s the green clumps. This is a bulbous clumping plant that if left to bloom will produce a white 6 petal flower. It spreads by both bulb and seed and I have had trouble identifying it because I’m constantly mowing it to the ground knowing full well that’s the best way to kill a plant (at least in a pasture environment), but this stuff seems to like it. It comes back with full force multiplying each year. It took some digging to identify my invasive mystery weed and once I found out a possible culprit, I could not figure out where it came from. Then, light bulb! This plant started rearing its head only after some light grading work was completed. Topsoil was removed from a location that included an old flower garden and then spread back over the lawn. We seeded it there! Ugg.
So, I know what it is and where it came from, but will it harm my cows? Thanks to some help with the local ag extension agent we were able to confirm my suspicions that it is in fact Star of Bethlehem and this plant is not listed toxic to cows. Horse owners beware, it is listed as toxic to horses.
The plan: Let the cows eat smother and trample this invasive plant until their hearts are content, hoping to weaken it annually.
Bird 2: Much needed fertilization
Yes. The lawn could use some fertilizer. Since I am not planning to use chemical fertilizer, I’ll plan to let the cows do this. I know it sounds yucky, but I don’t spend a lot of time running around in the yard in late spring. After a few weeks, the remnants of the cattle will be gone.
The plan: Use reeled poly wire to fence a short lane to the yard from the pasture. Use reeled poly wire to fence out the house, flower beds and bushes. Our cows like to sample everything, and I do have some low maintenance plants such as monkey grass and blueberry bushes that I would prefer to keep.
By the time I gather and set the posts, build the lane, fence house out and the lawn in, takes about 30 minutes.
Bird 3: Missing cool season plant to compete with the Star of Bethlehem plant
I need something to grow at the same time as the Star of Bethlehem plant. This plant should be actively growing March through May and may help smother out the invasive green clumps. Luckily, I do have some ryegrass seed. We keep some on hand and use it to over seed our pastures when in need of additional cool season plants. Yes, I know, this is an annual, but I have the seed on hand, it’s inexpensive, and it can provide a cover until the summer grasses come in. Later I’ll decide how, with what, and if I will seed the lawn in the fall.
Plan- Spread the ryegrass seed across the yard so the cows can trample the seed into the ground. Easy peasy. Takes about 5 minutes using a hand broadcaster.
Bird 4: Cows need to be full before moving to the spring pasture and the lawn is bare
I have decided we need to roll out some hay. There is not much to eat in my lawn and these cows need to be fat and happy before moooving on to greener pastures.
Plan: Crisscross the yard with rolled out hay as we would in a pasture situation leaving 5-6 feet in between. The cows will eat and munch on the hay sticking their rumps out the back creating even fertilization. The rolled-out hay is about 4 inches thick. This thickness will help smother out any Star of Bethlehem plants that the cows do not trample.
The cows will also trample in seed from the hay into the ground providing more ground cover to help improve the fertility and soil in the lawn. If it grows in the hay field, it can grow in my lawn. It all mows green. The hay that is not eaten will break down adding organic matter to the lawn. Remember, this time of year there is nothing growing in my yard except the Star of Bethlehem plant, which is the problem.
Plan in Action
On Sunday afternoon March 17, 2019 the plan is put in to action. The cows move on to the lawn from the lane and spend a few hours happily eating, pooping and trampling. There was a curious few who managed to get down on their knees and take a few tops out of my monkey grass. (Note to self: Run wire at least 4 foot from monkey grass next time.) I spend the afternoon taking photos watching the cows and enjoying the peacefulness of the herd. After a few hours they seem to be full and start to lie down. Since lying down is an indication that they have had their fill for a bit, It’s time for them to move on. The poly wire is rolled back opening the lane, we call the cows and they mosey down the drive to the next pasture…..
Stay tuned to see how it worked