April 18, 2012

Kudzu For Hay

single kudzu leaf
Kudzu leaf (click to biggify)
Kudzu, Pueraria lobata, "the vine that ate the south." We've got it. It's various nicknames are well deserved:

Mile-a-minute vine
Foot-a-night vine
Porch Vine
Telephone Vine
Wonder vine

Now considered an invasive species, the government once offered farmers $8 an acre to plant the stuff for erosion control. That was in the 1930s. By 1946 some 3 million acres had been planted in kudzu. The government finally stopped advocating it's use in 1953 and in 1972, the USDA declared kudzu a weed. In 1997 Congress placed it on the Federal Noxious Weed list. It currently covers an estimated 7 million acres in the southeastern U.S., literally swallowing up everything in it's path.

Is it useful? Folks would like to think so. It's used for making baskets, jewelry, paper, lamp shades, sculptures, candles, soap, as a dye plant (and in resist dyeing), and there are recipes galore for it. It's considered a survival food. It is used medicinally in Asia. It's being researched as a potential biofuel. It's also used for forage, silage, and hay.

My goats do like it and goats have been used successfully to control it. Unfortunately most of ours grows in as yet unfenced areas; mostly in the woods where it creeps closer and closer to the back field. When we first got here, we had a pecan tree almost completely engulfed in it. We cut the kudzu back and saved the tree, but it's impossible to kill because the roots grow over 9 feet deep as underground vines.

This year, I decided to experiment and dry some of the vines for hay.

wheelbarrow load of kudzu vines
Filling the wheelbarrow with kudzu vines

We try to harvest and dry as much of our own hay as possible. Initially I lamented that our hay (tall fescue mostly) was so weedy. I was amazed then, when the goats hollered impatiently for it and even fought over the choicest bits. I've since learned how nutritious "weeds" are for goats, more so than grass actually. Now I try to incorporate as many dried herbs and other plants as possible into our homegrown hay cuttings.

Grass, vetch, & weed clippings
from the edge of the wheat field

We aren't really set up with a proper hay field yet. That's the goal for the back field (not much progress since this last post about it, Pasture Improvement Phase 1). Still, it's nice to offer our goats our own hay. In fact it was only a couple months ago that we had to buy some.

I'm curious about how well the goats will like kudzu as hay. It is supposed to be exceptionally nutritious, with as much protein as alfalfa. It's not as easy to harvest however, because it is often found on steep slopes, rough terrain and wrapped around everything in it's path. In 1949, when folks still had high hopes for kudzu, a patent was granted to John L. Gettys of Camden, South Carolina for the invention of a kudzu hay gatherer.

Click to enlarge for a closer look

While this probably didn't make him his fortune, kudzu hay is available even now in some areas. I'm not sure how they cut and bale it nowadays and have never seen it for sale. I've been thinking about it though because our neighbor has an entire field taken over by the stuff. If it were ours, I might look into that.

Still, as a hand harvested hay additive, it may be a good way to help keep it somewhat under control. And who knows? Perhaps as is often the case for those of us with lesser green thumbs, the thing one wants the most is the thing that dies first. Maybe by simply wanting it, it will stop growing for me!

OK, not a very good joke, so maybe I'll just end with that. :)


Nina said...

The first time I saw Kudzu, I was totally amazed. I'd never seen anything with such an enormous impact on the surrounding areas. Hay would be useful! Is there no way of removing it from fields once it's taken over? If not, it would certainly be an even greater negative impact on the agriculture industry.
Baskets are good, but there are only so many baskets one can use or make :)

Poppy said...

Wonderful, Leigh! I think we could often benefit from looking at "weeds" differently. We live in the city and my husband are continually amazed at how prized grass is. I think of grass as my biggest weed in the garden! It's the most prolific and the most difficult to get rid of. Especially the creeping stuff!

Thanks for a very informative article!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to know that it actually does have some uses. I fight the stuff every year. It's amazing how quickly it can start strangling the trees.

Natalie said...

I have a goat question for you. When you feed them herbs incorporated into their diet, do you have to dry it first, or can they have some given to them fresh with their daily food?

Sunnybrook Farm said...

If it lays on the ground like honeysuckle, you can take a scythe and clip it off right at the ground and it rolls up into rows which can be pitched into a pile or truck with a fork. Of course it grows back but if you are wanting it for hay, it doesn't matter.

The Mom said...

That's a great idea. Mine gets ripped out and fed to the chickens. One of these days I'll learn how to cook with it.

Renee Nefe said...

I'm sure your neighbor won't object to you asking for his Kudzu. ;o)

I'm wondering if the goats can eat it "raw" or should it be dried for them first? I think it would be nice to just be able to let the goats go much it (maybe put them on a leash?) so you don't have to do so much work.

Leigh said...

Nina, it is an amazing plant. Very pretty to look at but tenacious. The problem with eradicating it is the root system. The roots grow 9 to 12 feet deep.

Poppy, I love it! Grass is my biggest weed too and your correct about the creeping stuff! Nasty!

Anonymous, that's what makes it so alarming, isn't it? It eventually strangles everything in it's path.

Natalie, both. My plan for the back pasture is to plant grass, legume, and herb seeds there. I do dry a lot though, because in summer they have a lot of fresh to choose from. Winter there is less variety so I try to incorporate more into their hay and as top dressing for their rations.

Sunnybrook Farm, it would be wonderful to be able to do that! Ours grows mostly in the woods, mostly up the trees and bushes. Our neighbor's though, could possibly be harvested as you say. Maybe Dan will be willing to talk to him about it sometime.

Heather, I hadn't though of feeding it to the chickens. And for some reason, kudzu in a recipe, any recipe, doesn't appeal to me!

Renee, we might ought to do that! The goats love it fresh, but this is the first time I've tried drying it for hay. We honestly wish we had the woods fenced in for that reason. I have taken the girls for walks back there, but the stuff grows so fast, they really should have access to it daily.

Susan said...

Our (my) problem plant is what I call the Fake Bamboo - it spreads by root and by flower/seed. It is incredibly invasive. I will have to see if anyone is interested in eating it. I manage to pull out about a yard or two a year.

Mama Pea said...

There is so much "out there" growing naturally that we could be using for both human and animal feed. Going in the direction you are, Leigh, is what we all need to do more of. It may not be the easiest or most time economical way to go, but it is going back to a more self-sufficient way.

Ngo Family Farm said...

Heehee - it was a very good joke! And you are a genius, Leigh, to see the potential for furthering your self-sufficiency with that weed. I also find it funny (and sad) that this was a government-made problem, and it makes me wonder what modern-day farming subsidies will be cursed in the future - corn, maybe?

Carolyn said...

Everybody should have a goat! Well, maybe not, but still you make a good point about using what "weeds" are around for animal feed. I know my goats love the vines & brambles & other icky stuff other livestock wouldn't touch. (Un)fortunately(?) we don't have any Kudzu growing on our place although I've seen it on the side of the highway climbing over telephone poles & abandoned homes. Too bad it's not easy to gather/harvest/dry, it sounds like it would make great goat feed.

Leigh said...

Susan, seems like everyone's got a pest plant! We have some huge bamboo around here, brows in groves and I'm told spreads badly. Would love to have some for garden stakes, but not a property takeover! (Though I imagine the goats would eat that too).

Mama Pea, it's only been over the past year that what you speak of has occurred to me. Hopefully, we'll eventually be able to feed all our critters from the homestead.

Jaime, if ya can't lick em, join em! Or something like that. Another modern day government encouraged problem is fertilizer. I was just reading in Acres U.S.A. about how conventional farming is finally recognizing that crops need more than nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium! Of course, the government used to give them fertilizer based on soil tests, but only for those three. Yet land produces lower and lower yields. I think the problem is, no one can think through the consequences.

Carolyn, I'm all for everyone having a goat! It's so true that they love vines and brambles. Funny, but my does like the kudzu better than the bucks. Not sure why, but so it is.

badgerpendous said...

That's so like you, to find a lemon and make lemonade! I've read about the biofuel prospects for kudzu. I hope there's a breakthrough.

Woolly Bits said...

hm, I am quite sure that it doesn't grow for me, because I do want it:) I tried it from seeds, but even though a few seedlings emerged, they were weak and never made any real progress! I'd say it wouldn't grow as rampantly in our climate anyway, but I did like the look of it! that said, most plants that are considered invasive, never do much here - and vice versa (ground elder anyone?:))

Cat Eye Cottage said...

Very interesting post. It is definitely amazing stuff! If anyoone can figure out how to harvest and dry it, you can.

Amy Dingmann said...

Very informative post. Leave it to the govt. to bring something here to "help" that would eventually take over and be a pest. Isn't that how we got Asian Beetles? :)

Unknown said...

I think it's good you're thinking outside the box! Many times we do what "everyone else does", and miss a good opportunity to do something better!

Doug Pitcher said...

I had a couple thoughts when I read your post.

1. Hay is expensive. We are lucky to have a hay field but it still costs around $2000 a year to put up the hay. I usually try to find someone with equipment that will trade half the hay for his time and equipment to put it up. In California a small square can cost up to $19 a bale. Here it's $5 a bale. That adds up when considering the cost of keeping animals.
2. We have a bunch of weeds on our land. I was trying to figure out how to get them off when someone came out and was ecstatic because we had heaps of yarrow and sage plants growing. My wife and her friends now use it to make medicinal oils and healing ointments. The thought here is most plants have a purpose/use. We really try to find ways to use all our plants even if we've only thought of them as weeds before.

Leigh said...

Badgerpendous, gosh, I hope that's like me. :) I agree about the break through. It would be so much better to get our biofuels from "weeds" rather than conventional food sources.

Bettina, LOL. When I wrote this I remembered you saying you'd tried to grow it. I recently read that some folks in Illinois planted it and now it's getting out of hand. But I reckon we all have our "weeds!"

Candace, it's fairly easy by hand, just very time consuming. Not sure if it's the best usage of my time, but OTOH, neither do I want it to choke us out.

Amy, so true. Actually, I've recently discovered that kudzu now has a pest, the kudzu bug. It's about the size of a ladybug but is in fact a stink bug! I'm finding it all over the kudzu so who knows? Unfortunately they like to come indoors in cold weather and like other crops too, like soybeans.

Nancy, I think it comes from trying to be self-sufficient. We have to think on the local level, i.e. what's growing on the homestead!

Doug, excellent points. I think most of us have been stuck in the conventional farming mindset, that things have to be a certain way. Thanks to the permaculture movement, many of us are learning otherwise.

Jody said...

Oh, it's more than a bad joke around here. When we're around our plant starts we quietly tell them that some other gardeners planted them, and we're just watching them. Because the moment they find out we're the actual gardeners, it will all be over!

Bridget said...

Interesting! We don't have this crop/weed in Ireland.

Leigh said...

Jody, now why is that! It always seems the stuff we don't want does the best!

Bridget, count your blessings! Woolly Bits though, tells me you've got your ground elder. I reckon we all have something we wish didn't grow!

Misty Pines Homestead said...

Now I wished I had collected some for my baskets and dreamcatchers darn!

Anonymous said...

My farm in western NC produces kudzu hay that people buy for their goats, horses, cattle, chickens, even earthworms. It's very nutritious.

Nick said...


These folks bale kudzu. Apparently they have a video showing how it is done.

Leigh said...

Hello Nick, welcome! And thank you for the interesting link. I should show that to my next door neighbor; his field is covered in it which would be perfect for his tractor (my kudzu is mostly in the woods). I know I would buy kudzu hay if I could get it.