What you should know about Cheatgrass

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Cheat grass, also known as – mean seeds, timothy, foxtails, cheat grass, June grass, and downy brome, is not only invasive, causing early season fires, out competing native species, but it is also potentially harmful to your dog.

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This grass germinates in the fall, and the seedling roots continue to grow throughout the winter, making it capable of out-competing native species for water and nutrients in the spring. The life cycle is quick, and the plant is dry by mid-June, usually with a prolific seed bank. The awns (seeds) are dry and hard just about the time most people in our mountain region are ready for hiking with their dog, and the awns are what cause many problems.

Cheatgrass lodges between toes, in fur, ears, eyes, and on occasion in the lungs of a dog.

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HISTORY – Cheatgrass is not native to North America, it was introduced through contaminated grain seed, straw packing material, and soil used as ballast in ships sailing from Eurasia. This first occurred between 1850 and the late 1890’s. During this time, abusive use of range lands, coupled with drought, left many Great Basin range lands in poor condition. Cheatgrass was able to occupy areas where the native vegetation had been reduced, beginning its persistent march across the landscape.

MY PROBLEM – My yard and pasture are great examples of how invasive and prolific this annual plant is. Because we have ducks and border collies, and don’t care to be digging awns out of their body, we spend about 12-15 hours a week digging out the plants by hand, scalp mowing areas to stop seed production, and borrow our friends sheep to come over and eat for free each spring.

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This is our second spring dealing with cheatgrass, and while we still have a bunch, it is half of what we saw last year, so our efforts are paying off!

Today I spent four hours in one patch of our yard. The plants are still green, and the soil moist, so weeding was easy, there was just a lot of it!

Why do it this way? My animals safety comes first in our yard and pastures, and we don’t use chemicals, in or out of our home, so it is good old fashioned manual labor.

The pay off? I get to work outside, in the quiet of the day, and my dogs hang out with me enjoying the yummy grass that we are trying to grow. It is peaceful and perfect, and it might be the best therapy there is really.

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If you look at the grass, you can see the cheatgrass all over. Since this is their favorite place to lay during the heat of the day, this was the priority this week.

If you see this plant, pull out as much as you can, but don’t leave them laying around, dispose of them right away.

If you are hiking and off of the trail are meadows of cheatgrass, it would be a great time to leash your dog and stay on the trail, the real risk just isn’t worth it.

ADVICE – after a hike or a walk in your pasture, brush your dog thoroughly, and be a good hairless primate and preen your dog, get your fingers into their fur and feel around, look around the ears, and feel between each toe. Taking 5-10 minutes to make sure all is well is the best way to prevent a possible awn-removal surgery.

Happy weeding! Nancy

 

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