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Serving: MO
A cow grazing in a pasture Mindy Ward
MONITOR HERD: Beef cattle producers should monitor their cows and calves as summer grazing brings with it the potential for poisoning from forages.

Summer forages prove toxic to beef cattle

Monitor cattle for signs of prussic acid or nitrate poisoning in summer pastures.

A lush field of summer annuals often is a welcome site for cattle producers, but it also poses a threat to beef cattle. Farmers need to pay close attention to when and how much of these forages are grazed to avoid toxicity.

Patrick Davis, University of Missouri Extension regional livestock field specialist, says summer annuals are an important part of the cattle operation grazing rotation. However, these forages can not only reduce productivity, but also profitability of a beef cattle operation. The delineating factor — toxicity.

Acid problem

“Prussic acid poisoning is a potential problem when grazing summer annuals such as sudangrass, sudangrass hybrids or sorghum,” Davis says.

Prussic acid poisoning stops oxygen utilization at the cellular level and, if not treated, results in death. Early symptoms of this toxicity include rapid and labored breathing, frothing at the mouth, ataxia, dilated pupils, muscle tremors and convulsions.

Davis says treatments should include intravenous administration of a mixture of 1 milliliter of 20% sodium nitrite and 3 milliliters of 20% sodium thiosulfate per 100 pounds of body weight. Beef producers also should administer 1 gallon of vinegar in 3 to 5 gallons of water via stomach tube.

Davis says prussic acid poisoning could be prevented. He recommends that farmers do not turn hungry cattle into a potentially toxic field. Instead, graze these forages at heights greater than 20 to 24 inches and wait seven to 14 days after a drought-ending rain before grazing.

Too many nitrates

Nitrate poisoning also is a potential problem with grazing summer annuals, Davis says. Certain weeds, corn, sudangrass, sudangrass hybrids, sorghum and pearl millet all can lead to toxicity in cattle.

This problem occurs when the plant continues nitrate uptake when plant growth is limited by factors such as drought, he explains. Excess nitrate accumulates in the lower portion of the stalk. When cattle consume excess nitrate, it is converted to nitrite instead of ammonia and enters the bloodstream.

Nitrite is very toxic and, if left untreated, leads to animal death, Davis adds. Some nitrate toxicity symptoms include painful rapid breathing, muscle tremors, weakness, incoordination, diarrhea, frequent urination, chocolate-colored blood and overall animal collapse.

Treatment for nitrate toxicity is intravenous solution of a 1% solution of methylene blue. However, like prussic acid poisoning, death is the common first symptom that cattle producers notice, so Davis urges prevention as the best treatment.

Ways to prevent nitrate poisoning include testing potential toxic forages, never turning hungry cattle into potential toxic fields, slowly adapting cattle to potential toxic fields, and diluting toxic forage consumption by providing corn supplementation. Also, these forages tend to be very toxic after a drought, so producers should wait 14 days after a drought-ending rain to graze these forages.  

In both cases, treatment requires veterinarian help, so Davis urges cattle producers to discuss potential treatments and prevention techniques with a local large animal veterinarian.

Source: University of Missouri Extension, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.
TAGS: Beef
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