While it may look similar to other grasses in your paddocks, barley grass can cause big problems for your animals. Here’s six steps to take to avoid problems and eliminate barley grass from your property.
1. Identify and Map
During Spring when the grass gets its distinctive seed head (images shown below), map out exactly where it is growing so that you are well prepared to attack it early next year. Our aim is going to be to prevent the barley grass developing and then dropping its seeds, so we’ll need to take action next winter and early spring before it has the seed heads that we can identify. Mapping the locations now gives us a head start on treating it next year.
Barley grass is an annual grass which, like most pasture grasses, emerges in autumn, grows through winter, and then sets its seed in spring and early summer before browning off and dying – leaving a new set of seeds in the ground for next year.
2. Keep Animals Clear
Once you see the seed heads forming, it’s important to keep animals clear from grazing the barley grass as much as possible. Barley grass is actually quite a good food source for livestock – the grass leaves that is – but the seed heads with the long pointed shapes can cause problems. The main issues caused to horses, sheep, dogs, cattle, alpacas etc by barley grass are skin irritations, mouth ulcers, gum infections, and damage or infection to the eyes. The seeds also contaminate wool, and are easily spread by attaching themselves to the coats of livestock.
3. Prevent Seeding
Barley grass is an annual grass that survives by dropping its seeds every year. Our aim therefore is to prevent it from forming seeds. This is done during winter and early spring, by identifying and treating the barley grass before the seed heads can fully form. Fortunately, barley grass seeds do not persist in the ground for very long, so by stopping seeds from falling in just one year we can make a good start on eliminating it. We will still need to continue the work over a couple of years, but the seeds do not last as well in the ground from one year to the next as some other weeds (like Capeweed).
Once it starts growing during winter, barley grass can be identified by its slightly lighter green colour that other annual or perennial grass types, and its leaves are quite long and wide, covered in soft hairs and tapering to a point. If you have mapped your areas the previous year, you’ll have a much better idea of where to start looking.
We then have a few options for preventing it going to seed in spring:
- Continual mowing or weeding. By continual mowing/slashing/weeding of the grass, it is stopped from forming seed heads. Also called ‘mechanical topping’ there is still a chance some plants will form seeds, but when done well this method can be very effective.
- Continual heavy grazing. The same approach as continual mowing, except more difficult to get complete impact in all areas.
- Spray topping. Spray topping is the use of a non-selective herbicide at a lower than usual concentration to basically severely wound the grass and prevent it forming proper seeds. The application is strong enough to reduce the amount of seeds, but weak enough that the grasses surrounding the barley grass (that you want to keep) are not killed off totally.
4. Prevent Spread
Make sure to reduce the spread of any seeds from any barley grass growing on your property (or a neighbours). Seed can spread on animals coats, in hay, in farm machinery or mowers, and on clothes and boots.
Also check any hay you’ve brought in – both to prevent the spread of seed to your property, and to make sure your animals aren’t eating the dry seed heads.
5. Help Other Grasses Beat It
The most effective and sustainable strategy for eliminating barley grass is to ensure there is strong competition from other types of grass that you do want on your property. Like most weeds, barley grass likes bare patches of ground and soil that is off-balance for acidity or nutrients. By doing the following three things, you can improve the perennial pastures and reduce the space that barley grass has to grow:
- Get a soil test, and improve the soil acidity or nutrient levels based on the recommendations from that test.
- Prevent overgrazing or damage which leaves bare patches.
- Oversow bare patches with preferred perennial pasture grasses, and fertilise as per your annual calendar.
6. Eliminate and Reseed
A dramatic but effective approach is to spray the entire affected area with a non-selective herbicide which kills all the barley grass before it forms seeds. To be totally effective, this will by a herbicide like glyphosate (RoundUp), which will ensure you’ve got all the barley grass, but will also kill everything around it. This would be done in autumn or winter, and a whole need pasture would be sown in its place in the spring of that year, or the following autumn. If you get the timing spot on, you can kill the first emerging barley grass in autumn and then get a pasture sown in that same autumn as well.
This approach is effective for smaller patches of barley grass, but where the barley grass has taken over in those patches. It may also be used on entire paddocks, giving the chance to renovate and improve those paddocks at the same time as removing the barley grass.
7. Use Herbicides
Numbers 3 and 4 above (spray topping or wiping out) both use herbicide during the growing phase – when the leaves are long enough (longer than 5cm), but before the seed heads have formed. These two ideas both involve using herbicides that will damage or kill surrounding grasses as well.
There is an option to use selective herbicides which will affect the barley grass but not impact your perennial pasture grasses that you want to keep. There are selective herbicides that can be sprayed once the grass is growing, or that can be put into the soil to prevent it germinating in the first place. These selective herbicides require careful mixing and application to get the timing and concentration just right.
Stick to your plan
Barley grass is difficult to get rid of, so you need a multi-year plan. Your best approach is to:
- Map it out each year when it has seed heads, and then identify it early in the following winter.
- Improve the soil and create strong perennial pastures to compete with the barley grass and prevent it growing.
- Stop it seeding each year using spraying, mowing or grazing (or a combination).
- If necessary, wipe it out totally and reseed the areas.
You won’t eliminate barley grass in one year – but be persistent and stick to your plan.
If we can help you with developing a property improvement and weed control plan, or more specific advice for your property or situation, please get in touch.
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What is Barley Grass?
When it comes to looking after our animals and having clean pastures, we might consider barley grass to be a weed. But of course barley (a type of grass) is farmed for many purposes including:
- Livestock fodder – it germinates rapidly after the autumn rains, and can provide valuable stock feed as a grass, or the grain it produces. (One person’s “weed seeds” are another person’s “grain for fodder”!!)
- Beer – a source of fermentable material for beer and other products.
- Health food – used in a variety of products.
Barley is a cereal grain, and one of the first grains known to have been farmed by humans.