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Animal Health Notebook
producer looking at mature fescue Alan Newport
Fescue and other cool-season grasses often produce large amounts of non-protein nitrogen, especially if they are fertilized.

Funny protein the result of management mistakes

Non-protein nitrogen continues to be a health problem for many cattle.

The weather likely never will cease to be a major topic of conversation for those of us who spend a high percentage of our lives and derive a good percentage of our incomes outdoors.

One of the many selling points that “boom and bust” planned grazing yields is the effective control of the weather. Soil moisture is still present and in use with very little rain or snow. Floods are not devastating when a highly functional water cycle is present. Large amounts of diverse forage in front of cattle is a damn good insurance policy. Conversely, remember that deserts are man-made.

The top-end Australian soil ecologist Christine Jones agrees with Ray Bannister, me and several others that the roadside grows the forage we would like to have in our pastures. In mid-April this year the side of the road where I live was a big contrast when compared to set-stocked pastures. A huge green salad of 50 or more green species is 14 inches deep in a brown-growth backdrop of litter. There are cattle with heads stuck through barbed wire and out in the roads all over the county.

Reasoning for this phenomenon is not just a matter of cattle exclusion from the roadside, but actually happens in spite of their near complete absence. Don’t forget that road-kills are evidence that a bunch of grazing is going on between the fence and the pavement. Plants need animals for lots of reasons. The bacteria from animals’ manure,(especially ruminants) is a much-needed component for the soil. A clean woodlot is 100% fungal and does not grow grass.

Soil ecologist Jones describes the soil food web and its disruption by conventional ranching/farming practices. Two of those common practices for better than 50 years are chemical nitrogen application and broadleaf suppression with herbicides. “Funny protein is her definition of nitrogen in forage that is not a part of an amino acid structure. It is not protein at all and I refer to it as non-protein nitrogen (NPN) or urea. It is likely a major component and cause of cattle health maladies on the grazing lands of much of the world, especially in temperate country and doubly so on cool-season grasses.

Funny protein yields excess ammonia and this is exacerbated when forage energy is deficient. Animals do not produce or reproduce well or live healthily when there is the presence of excess ammonia in the bloodstream. Quality soil health is about lots of factors and they are all closely related and affecting each other. Animal health is also about lots of factors and certainly most are interrelated.

Grazing cattle can be highly profitable. We have proven this for better than a decade; so have several other folks. We have also shown that the lack of forage energy is by far the most common deficiency in grass cattle. Our program is aimed at drastically reducing the low-energy days and months and raising stability and extending the starch energy in plants for our cattle. Our emphasis is on soil health, plant diversity, high-animal-density grazing, with rapid movement and followed by complete plant and pasture recovery before the cattle return.

Next week I'll review the soil’s role in funny protein in our pastures.


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