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Pasture Weeds in Australia: Types, Identification & More

Pasture weeds
Written by
Sheeda Cheng
April 11, 2024

Identifying and treating pasture weeds are crucial aspects of managing a healthy and productive pasture. However, for Australian graziers, the challenge of keeping grazing lands free of invasive weeds is a year-round task and not an easy one.

Unfortunately, stubborn pasture weeds will significantly impact grazing quality, and overall farm sustainability. Among these, species such as African love grass and Paterson's curse not only diminish the nutritional quality of feed but can also be toxic to livestock, creating a pressing need for effective weed management.

Therefore, understanding how to get rid of weeds sustainably and identifying pasture weeds in Australia are pivotal skills for maintaining productive pastures.

What You’ll Learn

This guide dives deep into strategies on how to get rid of weeds, offering insights into pasture weed identification in Australia and highlighting the importance of sustainable weed control measures. 

You will learn the nuances of distinguishing between beneficial forage and invasive species, understanding the specific threats posed by weeds, such as Chilean needle grass and Paterson's curse, and exploring integrated approaches to managing these challenges effectively. 

This guide is designed to arm Australian graziers with the knowledge and tools necessary to combat pasture weeds, overall enhancing the resilience and productivity of our grazing lands.

What are Pasture Weeds?

Pasture weeds are unwanted plants that grow within grazing lands and compete with desirable forage species for vital resources such as sunlight, water, nutrients, and space. 

Beyond their competitive nature, many weeds possess characteristics that can be directly harmful to grazing animals. Some pasture weeds characteristics include toxicity, reduced feed palatability, and the potential to cause nutritional imbalances or deficiencies. 

Certain weeds can also indicate underlying issues with pasture health, such as poor soil fertility or compaction, which further supports the vital task of pasture management. 

For Australian graziers, the battle against these invasive plants is not just about maintaining their lands, but ensuring the sustainability and profitability of their livestock operations. 

Effective weed management is essential for preserving the quality and productivity of pastures, ultimately supporting the well-being of the grazing animals and the viability of agricultural practices.

Types of Pasture Weeds

In the diverse ecosystem of Australian pastures, weeds can be broadly categorised into two types: broadleaf weeds and grass-like weeds. 

Broadleaf weeds, distinguishable by their wide leaves and often vivid purple, pink, or yellow flowers, include notorious species such as Paterson's curse and St John’s wort. These plants not only detract from the nutritional value of the pasture but can also pose serious health risks to grazing livestock due to their toxicity. 

On the other hand, grass-like weeds, such as African love grass, Chilean needle grass, and serrated tussock, mimic desirable pasture grasses in appearance but offer little to no nutritional value, quickly outcompeting the more beneficial species. 

These invasive grasses are particularly challenging to manage due to their resilience and the difficulty in distinguishing them from beneficial pasture species until they are well established. 

Identifying Pasture Weeds in Australia

Techniques for Identifying Pasture Weeds

Identifying pasture weeds accurately is the first step in effective management and control. Identifying the weed quickly not only aids in early detection but also helps you find the most effective management strategies for the type of weed, and safeguarding your pasture health and livestock productivity. 

Techniques for identifying these invasive species include close examination of leaf shapes, flower types, and growth patterns. 

Visual aids such as field guides specific to Australian weeds, digital applications, and online databases can be invaluable tools for graziers. High-resolution photographs, often available in these resources, allow for comparison with weeds found in the field. 

Here are some notable field guides: 

Additionally, extension services and agricultural advisors offer workshops and identification services that can further aid in recognizing and differentiating between harmful weeds and beneficial pasture species. 

Regional Weed Profiles

Across Australia's varied climates, the prevalence of certain pasture weeds can significantly differ, impacting management strategies from region to region. 

Pasture Weeds in Victoria

To start, common pasture weeds in Victoria are Paterson's curse. They are noxious weeds dominating in Victoria with striking purple, pink, and white flowers. They are a visually striking yet detrimental broadleaf weed. 

Pasture Weeds in Queensland

Queensland, with its tropical to subtropical climate, faces challenges from Chilean needle grass and serrated tussock. Both pasture weeds in Queensland are adept at spreading across vast areas, reducing the quality of pasturelands rapidly. 

These weeds cost Queensland an estimated $600 million annually.  

Pasture Weeds in NSW

Moving north to New South Wales, African love grass and St John’s wort become increasingly problematic, thriving in the temperate conditions and causing not only feeding issues but also soil degradation.

These regional distinctions highlight the necessity for tailored management approaches, understanding that the effective control of pasture weeds in one area may not be as successful in another. 

Management Strategies

Integrated Weed Management

Integrated Weed Management (IWM) presents a holistic approach for tackling the issue of invasive pasture weeds, blending chemical, physical, and biological control methods to create a sustainable and effective management plan. 

By combining approaches, graziers can address the immediate challenges posed by invasive weeds while also implementing longer-term strategies to prevent reinfestation, aligning weed management efforts with broader pasture management goals and sustainability practices.

Physical Control Methods

Physical control methods, such as mowing and mechanical weeding, serve as effective strategies for managing pasture weeds by directly removing or damaging the unwanted plants. Regular mowing, for instance, can prevent weeds from reaching maturity and seeding, thereby reducing their spread and impact on pasture quality. 

It is a particularly useful approach for controlling broadleaf weeds and some grass-like species that are less tolerant to frequent cutting. Additionally, mechanical weeding tools can uproot or cut weeds below the surface, offering a more targeted approach to weed removal without the need for chemical inputs. 

These physical interventions, when applied carefully and in combination with other management strategies, can significantly diminish weed populations and promote the growth of desirable forage species. 

Biological Control and Grazing Management

Biological control introduces natural weed predators or competitors to reduce weed populations without the need for chemicals. On another hand, utilising livestock for weed control could reduce the reliance on chemical herbicides, enhance pasture biodiversity, and potentially improve the nutritional intake of the herd. 

Biological control through grazing management offers an innovative approach to managing pasture weeds. By strategically deploying livestock, specifically cows, to graze on areas infested with certain types of weeds, graziers can leverage the natural feeding behaviours of their herd to suppress unwanted plant growth. 

Not all weeds are harmful to cattle; in fact, some, when consumed in moderation, can provide supplemental nutrition. This method, however, requires careful selection of the types of weeds accessible to the livestock to avoid any that are toxic or could cause health issues. 

Biological control grazing underscores the synergy between livestock management and pasture health, promoting a more sustainable agricultural ecosystem.

Chemical Control

Chemical control involves the selective use of herbicides to target specific weed species while minimising harm to desirable pasture plants. As graziers, it’s important to recognise this may alter soil health. 

Careful application of herbicides can effectively target and eliminate specific weed species, offering a direct method for preserving pasture health and productivity. However, it's imperative to select herbicides that are not only efficient in weed eradication but also safe for the surrounding environment, livestock, and desirable plant species. 

To achieve this balance, opting for selective herbicides that target the physiological differences between weeds and pasture grasses can minimise collateral damage. Additionally, adhering to label instructions and recommended application rates is crucial to prevent overuse and potential resistance development in weed populations. 

Graziers should also consider the timing of applications to maximise efficacy and reduce the impact on non-target species. Significant rest periods between applications could also help reduce weed competitiveness and promote the recovery and health of desirable forage plants.

As mentioned above, implementing rotational grazing and allowing pastures to rest can further enhance the effectiveness of weed control and could minimise the requirement for chemical use. 

Sustainable Practices for Weed Control

Non-chemical weed control practices are pivotal in fostering sustainable, productive pastures, offering an array of strategies aimed at reducing reliance on herbicides. Below are some sustainable practices for weed control: 

  • Grazing management: plays a critical role in weed suppression. Strategic rotational grazing allows desirable forage to outcompete weed species. 
  • Mechanical methods: Targeted mowing and manual removal directly reduce weed populations by disrupting their growth and seed production. 
  • Cultural techniques: Introduction of competitive cover crops and adjusting soil pH to enhance the resilience of pastures against weed invasion. 
  • Biological control: Introducing natural predators to specific weeds, gradually diminishing their presence without chemical intervention. 

These methods, while requiring initial effort and adjustment, pave the way for a more sustainable and productive agricultural practice that effectively manages weeds, promotes pasture health, and maintains ecosystem balance.

Key Takeaways

Effective management of pasture weeds is essential for maintaining the health and productivity of grazing lands. Key strategies include accurately identifying invasive species through visual techniques and utilising a variety of control methods as part of an Integrated Weed Management (IWM) approach. 

This involves combining minimal chemical treatments with physical and biological controls to achieve sustainable weed suppression. 

Chemical: Selecting the right herbicides and applying them responsibly minimises environmental impact and preserves desirable forage. 

Physical and Biological: Physical methods like mowing and mechanical weeding offer immediate relief from weed infestations, while strategic grazing practices can leverage livestock as a natural weed control mechanism.

Sustainable: Emphasising non-chemical approaches, such as improving soil health and introducing competitive forage species, supports long-term pasture resilience and reduces reliance on herbicides. 

By implementing these strategies, graziers can effectively manage pasture weeds, ensuring the viability and sustainability of their agricultural practices and the well-being of their livestock.


How can I tell if a weed in my pasture is toxic to livestock?

Research and consult guides specific to Australian weeds, focusing on those known to be toxic. If in doubt, consult an agricultural extension officer or a vet familiar with local flora. Photos and descriptions from reliable sources can be very helpful.

Are there any weed control methods that don't involve chemicals?

Yes, physical methods like mowing, and mechanical removal, biological control through strategic grazing (if edible), and promoting competitive forage species are effective non-chemical approaches. Incorporating cover crops and managing soil health are also valuable strategies.

How often should I inspect my pastures for weed infestations?

Regular inspections are key. Seasonal changes can bring different weeds, so a quarterly inspection is a good practice. Adjust based on your observations and local conditions.

Can all types of livestock be used for biological weed control?

While cattle are commonly used, the suitability of other livestock depends on the weed types present and the animals' grazing preferences. As mentioned, some weeds may be toxic to certain livestock, so it’s crucial to identify the weeds before using animals for control.


Managing pasture weeds effectively requires a proactive and multifaceted strategy. Australian graziers must blend several measures within an Integrated Weed Management framework to combat invasive species successfully. 

By prioritising weed identification, tailoring management practices to regional specifics, and embracing sustainable methods, graziers can safeguard pasture health and livestock productivity. 

Continuous monitoring and adaptation to emerging weed challenges are fundamental to maintaining resilient grazing ecosystems. Ultimately, this integrated approach fosters a sustainable agricultural environment, ensuring the prosperity of grazing operations for generations to come.

Put it into Action

Begin with a thorough walk-through of your pastures to determine existing weed species, utilising digital tools or field guides for precise recognition. Implement a rotational grazing schedule to prevent overgrazing and reduce weed spread. 

Then, choose a combination of management strategies that best suit your identified weed types and pasture conditions, such as integrating mowing and selective herbicide use for immediate control. 

Lastly, always incorporate cover crops and competitive forage species to naturally suppress weeds. Regularly monitor the effectiveness of your strategies, making adjustments as necessary to address new weed challenges or changes in pasture health. 

Try MaiaGrazing

MaiaGrazing is grazing management software that guides you to make better decisions for higher profits, healthier animals and more resilient pastures. Ultimately, it helps you to optimise your grazing operation. 

When you use MaiaGrazing, you’ll see these benefits:

  • Maximise your livestock’s potential
  • Boost carrying capacity of your land
  • Optimise paddock yield
  • Minimise feeding costs
  • Manage your grazing to retain and build soil carbon

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