Native plantings can have invasive weed problems that are best solved by removing the individual plants by hand. Find out the pros and cons of using horses for this task.
Our rogueing season came to an end in September here at Hamilton Native Outpost, and we are assessing the success of our new experiment: rogueing with horses. Our crew spends many hours every growing season rogueing weeds – ranging from sericea lespedeza to fescue and many others – out of native plantings. Before this experiment, we traversed the fields on foot with a back-pack sprayer or digging tool to selectively remove weeds, but of course this required a lot of walking while carrying a load. We have also used 4-wheelers, but we have found that most operators go too fast and as a result miss too many weeds, and we have also found that these machines to lack maneuverability (when a weed is barely out of reach, it is just difficult enough to maneuver the machine that most operators take the easy-out and spray at a sideways angle, instead of straight down, which results in lot of collateral damage by killing plants in front of and behind the target).
Last winter we got creative and started thinking about using horses; we hypothesized they would not only lighten our loads (backpack sprayers get heavy after a while) and save the crew a lot of steps but also put the crew members at a better perspective to identify the weeds.
Our Rogueing Crew Leader this past summer, Reid Long, and Seed Production Coordinator, Colt Hamilton, gave us an update on how things went using the horses for rogueing weeds out of native plantings. The crew agreed that they were able to cover more ground on the horses than on foot. They could cover about 7 acres a day horseback compared to 2 acres on foot. This allowed them to kill 3 times more weeds than in previous years; basically, two men on horseback this year were able to kill as many weeds as five men on foot in previous years.
The crew also found that having a taller vantage point from being horseback gave them a better point of view for most weed species. However, they found that they had a hard time spotting smaller plants because they were up higher and farther from the plants.
When working with horses, there are always adventures like the morning the crew spent trying to catch one of their mounts that did not want to be caught. And, it helps if the crew members have an interest in horses and riding.
In the end, we think that rogueing from horseback was an improvement, and we will continue to saddle up our horses for rogueing in the future.