Joel Salatin invented the description “Salad Bar Beef” to describe the menu of the wide diversity of grasses and flora found in native pastures and upon which our cattle make “grass-fat” beef. We have now raised our count to 16 of those native grasses at JVF. But you must understand that the salad bar that Salatin refers to includes more than grass. It includes what many of us would generically call “weeds”. But here’s the story on weeds – our soil protectors.
Weeds have a number of beneficial functions. This year has been alternating between very wet and cool to very hot and dry. The latter cycle causes weed-pop. Why is that? Weeds shade the soil to keep the surface from getting too hot; grass will not grow at surface temperatures of 95 and above. Drop the air temperature from 95 to 85 and it encourages grass, and that’s one beneficial function. Grass grows under the shade of the weed canopy. The second benefit relates to the “how” of weed-pop. Weeds in dry weather have an ability to reach deeper for moisture in the sub-soil than grass does. In the deeper soil the weeds also intersect more minerals and when they do, they bring those minerals up to the grass roots level, enriching the soil and adding fresh stores of minerals to the grasses. Third benefit? Weeds can be palatable to cattle and pigs, high in protein and minerals. Not all, but many. So weeds are forage despite the effort of conventional farmers to spray them to death. When you spray them with herbicides, you are killing a friend and poisoning your soil.
Long live the weeds in the salad bar of a native pasture!