Weatherford Democrat

Lifestyles

January 11, 2008

Man uses tractor to crush cactus

By Fred Afflerbach

Temple Daily Telegram

TEMPLE (AP) — The prickly pear cactus has been a thorn in the cattleman’s side since the Mexican vaqueros began pushing their stock across the Rio Grande well over two centuries ago.

This invasive species chokes out native grasses with its aggressive root system that spreads horizontally, sending up new shoots. It sucks up rainwater before the moisture can soak in, or run off and fill reservoirs needed for watering stock. The noted author O. Henry called prickly pear a ‘‘demon plant’’ because it could live without soil, or water, in a sparse landscape.

Ranchers have sprayed it with chemicals, scraped it with bulldozers, and in times of drought used it for cattle feed by burning the spines with propane torches.

Fast forward to the 21st century and meet the Kactus Krusher, aka Dave Gross, riding a red 1954 Farmall tractor pulling an odd-looking train of cutting and crushing implements pulverizing the cacti into green mush.

Gross says with the outer hide broken open, the moisture leaches from the large leaves, or pads. Once the pads have completely dried out, they crunch under your feet, like walking on potato chips, before they decompose into the soil.

Temple resident Don Ringler bought rural property infested with prickly pear outside Salado several years ago. Gross treated about 80 acres that Ringler said was so thick with prickly pear he couldn’t walk through it. About two years after Gross finished a series of treatments, Ringler said it was amazing how both native plants and wildlife have thrived.

‘‘It’s not like traditional methods where you lose a lot of top soil,’’ Ringler said. ‘‘He cuts them out at the roots and smushes them so they dry out.’’

Bell County Agricultural Extension Agent Dirk Aaron said prickly pear is a big problem in parts of western Bell County, where carrying capacity for cattle can be as little as one head for 25 acres.

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