Burdock Time

What’s a weed, and what’s a resource? On our property, we have a plant that’s both: burdock. It grows everywhere around here. Through most of the spring, it develops lots of broad leaves and just looks kind of ugly.

It’s not until the arrival of summer that burdock becomes more of a problem: as it goes to seed, it develops lots of burs. Toward the end of summer, as the reproductive cycle completes itself, these burs get quite large and dry and pull off the plant easily. They cling to anything, especially any article of clothing, that even brushes against them.

The sheep and goats love eating burdock leaves — but god forbid the sheep get into a patch of mature burdock toward the end of summer. Their wool will be jammed full of burs, all of which will have to be removed before the wool can be processed. Something similar happens to the goats: their “beards” will get so loaded with burs, it can become one solid mass (not to mention the stray burs that cling to the rest of their coats).

This isn’t usually an issue. The sheep and goats instantly mow down any burdock plants that might sprout in their pasture; the tender young leaves are among their favorite treats. So, we never get mature burdock out in the pasture. However, there are lots of burdock plants growing elsewhere in the yard — especially behind my office, or along the edge of the hay field. If the sheep or goats happen to get loose in the yard, or if we want to turn them loose in the yard (supervised) to eat weeds, disaster can easily ensue.

The burdock seed heads are just now beginning to develop, which has gotten me thinking about this issue. It’s also led me to get out the pruning shears, and go on a massive burdock hunt. Over the last week or two, I’ve taken down several large stands of the stuff. The sheep see me lugging armloads of it toward the pasture, and word spreads quickly. They come running, and soon the whole flock is feasting as I toss the cut plants over the fence.

I got most of the big stands right before the seed heads began showing. In the last few days, as the nascent burs are beginning to become evident, my burdock hunt has taken on a greater urgency.

maturing burdock.jpg

Yesterday, and into this morning, I’ve been lopping off every last burdock plant I can find. It’s not necessary to take down the entire plant — just the primary, central portion. I don’t mind if some of the leaves growing from the bottom portion of the stalk remain. When we turn the sheep loose in the yard next week, the flock will gladly finish these leaves off.

cut burdock.jpg

While I was at it, I took down a few other leafy weeds. Before long, I had a nice pile of fresh green stuff for the sheep and goats. Given how picked-over their pastures have become, they mobbed me as I came with this enormous armload.

Pile of burdock

It’s may be a cliche to say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. But here on the farm, it’s true beyond a doubt that one man’s weeds are a ruminant’s feast.

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