Farm Progress

Here's how I learned to think about plants so weeds aren't negative anymore.

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke, Blogger

March 29, 2017

3 Min Read
Even though the main plants in this forest understory are broadleafed plants -- weeds to most people -- Cooke says he gets several grazing days each year in this area.

Recently someone called and said that I was going to receive an add-on to my reputation. After finding out who I was speaking with, I realized he wasn’t acquainted enough to truly know much of my fame -- or infamy -- so I decided to zip my lip and tell him to have at it with the add-on.

He said I was formerly known as a “little-cow” guy that didn’t understand genetics. Now I am known as the “ugly, weedy pasture guy who likes little cows” and still doesn’t understand genetics.

All of the above sounds quite accurate but only if I change my definitions and goals. My thought on land, plants and the cattle business have changed drastically in the last 40 years. From now on I think the adjustments will be quite small.

Definitions are important as are individual goals. My job is not to cram my system down the throats of the other land caretakers, but rather to show the reasoning behind our program, as to why and how.

There are many definitions of weeds and what constitutes a weed. There is a reason for every plant that grows on a location to be there. Moisture, condition and nature of the soil, and the environment are all important. Timing, density and time length of presence of cattle to a location are critical and require some study, knowledge and understanding.

We are not required to know everything but we do need to stay on top of the principles. The Creator did not make plants to kill us or break our backs but rather to keep us from killing ourselves and our children. The Lord did not create deserts. Man’s bad decisions were/are the culprit. Most of what we call weeds have a real purpose. That purpose is likely to make our operation better in the long term. The short term is the problem. Our learning and training and prejudices are commonly blocking our betterment. Attitude and apathy are often negative and definitely affect how we respond.

Plants that build soil are not weeds. Plants that increase profitability are not weeds. Plants that medicate cattle and are used by wildlife are not weeds. Plants that correct imbalances are not weeds. Plants that do not inhibit what I need to grow are not weeds. If you buy all of what I have just said then chances are that you can understand why I now have problems defining the word weed.

Recently we reviewed several hundred pictures taken of our cattle and pastures over the past dozen years. Many of the locations appeared to be much “prettier” several years ago than they are today. Many of the cattle looked prettier. Forest Gump said that “pretty is as pretty does”.

Our profits are much improved now. Our workload is way down. Our soil is much better. The cattle are much more satisfied -- they go to grass rather than running to supplement. The water cycle is now functioning. Dry weather helps rather than hurts.

The weeds are there for a reason and a purpose. Understanding the environment of our land is a very important part of our job. The purpose of most plants is to fix negative, under-surface conditions and they are quite capable of performing those tasks.

Our job is to tweak the garden, not kill it. Longevity is likely our No. 1 ally. We would do well to remember this on a daily basis.

About the Author(s)

R. P. 'Doc' Cooke


R. P. "Doc" Cooke, DVM, is a mostly retired veterinarian from Sparta, Tennessee. Doc has been in the cattle business since the late 1970s and figures he's driven 800,000 miles, mostly at night, while practicing food animal medicine and surgery in five counties in the Upper Cumberland area of middle Tennessee. He says all those miles schooled him well in "man-made mistakes" and that his age and experiences have allowed him to be mentored by the area’s most fruitful and unfruitful "old timers." Doc believes these relationships provided him unfair advantages in thought and the opportunity to steal others’ ideas and tweak them to fit his operations. Today most of his veterinary work is telephone consultation with graziers in five or six states. He also writes and hosts ranching schools. He is a big believer in having fun while ranching but is serious about business and other producers’ questions. Doc’s operation, 499 Cattle Company, now has an annual stocking rate of about 500 pounds beef per acre of pasture and he grazes 12 months each year with no hay or farm equipment and less than two pounds of daily supplement. You can reach him by cell phone at (931) 256-0928 or at [email protected].

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