How do burrs get spread?

Here’s a classic-

As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I got a new camera today. I headed to the mountains south of Pocatello to try it out and came back with a disgusting photo (as well as some attractive landscapes).

Pretty much all the cows looked more or less like this poor critter on the Caribou National Forest. Every year on this grazing allotment there are more burrs, and I think we see the explanation. Photo copyright Ralph Maughan, but permission to repost is granted with my credit



, ,




  1. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page

    Is that from houndstongue? I killed a whitetail buck in MT several years ago that looked like that from houndstongue. It took us about 5 years to get that nasty weed down to a manageable level on the place.

  2. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    Most seeds are eaten by ungulates if they have ancestoral training…and the functional extended family is made up of all the ages and sexes. A lot of plants don’t even get to seed stage if the grazers are very knowledgable.

    My infrastructured buffalo eat a lot of DYC’s flower heads (damn yellow composites) just at the stage where the flower is withering and the seed is starting to form up. I can guarentee that black angus Ralph is picturing doesn’t have a clue they can eat the seed heads now being a bother to it.

  3. montucky Avatar

    Perhaps running that rancher through about ten miles of that range in his stocking feet and at the point of a pitchfork would be a good start to controlling the burrs.

  4. Linda Hunter Avatar

    Ralph was that look the cow gave you followed up with aggressive action? That looks like one pissed off cow. I hope your had your pepper spray handy. (Dave I am sorry I couldn’t resist)

  5. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Tom Page,

    Yes it is houndstongue. If you walk through the area your pants will soon look like that too. It has spread all over the cow area.

    Downstream, a mile or so the ranger district has a “beauty zone” along Mink Creek. There is no grazing and no houndstongue, and the tall perennial grasses even in mid-Sept. are still somewhat green and would not support much of a fire.

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Bob Jackson.

    I think houndstongue burrs are toxic. The green leaves are.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Linda Hunter,

    The cow was just embarrassed I think. There were 3 others foraging along the road. They knew I was up to no good. It’s kind of like being caught with your pants down, and all of a sudden you’re on the Internet 😉

  8. Nathan Avatar

    Cows doing what they do best right?

    the tech geek inside of me is curious,
    What camera did you get?

  9. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    Ralph, I don’t know the specifics on “houndstongue” but I do know a lot of supposed toxic plants out West are quite edible to grazers if they are eaten in conjunction with offsetting txic plants. The group I am with, the BEHAVE unit out of Utah State has been doing all kinds of research on this kind of thing. From Knapweed to all kinds of toxic brush. Most “toxic” plants are taken in moderation by grazers who know what they are and used to a lot of benefit…from worms etc.

  10. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I got a Nikon D5000. What a smooth running beast of a camera! I am impressed.

    Bob Jackson,

    I did know that some toxic plants can be balanced off with other plants and that season counts a lot too.

    I found out something about knapweed the hard way the other day. I was walking up a ridge above Pocatello. There isn’t much knapweed around here, but on top of the ridge I came upon 10 or 20 plants I could pull by hand, and I did with my bare hands.

    It took me about a half hour to get down to my truck. Meanwhile, it was getting hot and I felt itchy and scratched my wrist with my hand that had knapweed juice on it. The juice left marks that took two weeks to go away.

    Regarding houndstongue, you never see any of it eaten by anything except perhaps a few insects. It is quite an increaser too. I brought some home last year in my boot laces and they got emptied on the lawn. This year they grow in the lawn, and persisted despite the weekly mowings. I finally dug them out.

  11. jdubya Avatar

    That is one fine looking cow. Can’t wait for my 1/3 pounder at McDonalds.

  12. gline Avatar

    poor little critter? no one cares he will be food soon! like above comment

  13. gline Avatar

    must say I don’t feel the same way , we all may come in the next life as cows…

  14. Steve C Avatar
    Steve C

    I hope the cow signed a waiver for its image to be used…

  15. JimT Avatar

    Cows don’t have standing, so waiver is moot…~S~

    Ralph, more camera issues. What lens do you find necessary to use for your wildlife photos? Are you making do with something in the 300mm range, or did you spring for something in the 500 fixed mm range?

  16. JB Avatar


    I’m not Ralph, but I can answer your question. If you’re working mostly with large animals in the National Parks then you can get away with a 300mm–especially if you use as a 1.4x/2.0x converter and are not working with a full frame sensor.

    However, if you are shooting birds or small mammals, and/or working with a camera with a full frame sensor, a 500+mm is a must. All of these shots were taken with a 300 F/4 or 70-200 F/2.8:

  17. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Steve C

    I’m going to make like the cattle papariatzi and sell it to Cattle News.

    Actually I put the photo halfway into the public domain. It is for everyone’s free use, but give me credit.

  18. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    I have a zoom that goes to 300mm (in the 35mm sensor format).

    I also bought a Nikon P90 with a 24x zoom! The photo quality is inferior to an SLR lens, but it does zoom out to 640 optical mm!! and with vibration stabilization. It gets OK photos and quickly whereas those with better optics are still setting up when the subject of their photos (wildlife) has moved out of sight.

  19. Tom Page Avatar
    Tom Page

    I have pulled a few thousand houndstongue plants over the years, and I don’t recall one ever being chewed on.

    I would be curious to know about how the responsible agency was able to keep the houndstongue out of an area one mile away from such a heavily infested spot…we shut down all grazing in the affected area on our ranch, and we were pretty militant about spraying, pulling, and keeping the burrs in the invaded zone. We wore briar pants and hard boots to reduce our own effect, yet we still had dispersal thanks to the numerous elk, whitetail, mule deer, moose, coyotes, foxes and all the rest that moved through.

    Knapweed makes me itch too, but usually a shower within a couple hours after contact makes it go away.

  20. kt Avatar

    I must say Ralph – This is one eye-catching ugly-cow Photo!

    Kind f reminds me (the seeds) of the clouds of flies that usually surround ’em.

    Next should be a trip to Arizona to get one of a cow with Teddy bear cholla arms all over it.

  21. Pronghorn Avatar

    Because it’s a biennial (according to Weeds of the West & to MT’s noxious weed guide), houndstongue isn’t that hard to get rid of, unless you’ve got an infestation over acres and acres. I either destroy the rosette (dig the taproot) in the first year or cut & bag the seed heads in the 2nd.

    From Weeds of the West:
    Houndstongue is toxic…causing liver cells to stop reproducing. Animals may survive for six months or longer after they have consumed a lethal amount. Sheep are more resistant to houndstongue poisoning than are cattle or horses. Horses may be especially affected when confined in a small area infested with houndstongue and lacking desirable forage.

  22. Jeff Avatar


    Remember to get a property release signed by the rancher if you sell that photo for other than editorial use. You can be sued, and successfully since the brand is clearly visible so the property is identifiable. Editorial use is exempt by law.

  23. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    Thanks for your advice, but I want to reiterate what is in the caption under the photo. I have put this photo in the public domain, retaining only the right that I get photo credit. There can be no sale of the photo.

    The cow is on public property and the brand is neither clearly visible nor identifiable to anyone in the general public.

  24. Rimrock Avatar

    Looks to me like the brand might be NO.

    hahahaha That’s classic…!


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox

Ralph Maughan