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Animal Health Notebook

We can manage so cattle can deworm themselves

Full recovery for rangeland lets plants grow that cattle use for medicinal purposes.


A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting in on a Greg Judy talk for the biggest part of a day. Greg has been a friend for the biggest part of a decade. He is high energy and has become a highly successful rancher, teacher, writer, consultant and speaker. He ranches 200 miles further north than I do, and his winters are colder and summers are dryer. He is in the fescue belt but hardly to the extent that we are here on the I-40 corridor.

Greg and I both talk a lot about forbs, weeds and brush. We both think of them as more good than bad. I think that several of ya’ll would like to know what could possibly be good about weeds, so I thought I would remind everyone that most drugs have a history and origin from plants. A large percentage of them are commonly considered to be weeds by most of us cattlemen.

A partial list of plants that have a deworming effect on cattle include:

Blackberry, raspberry, multiflora rose, elder shoots, pokeweed, several nettles, several nuts and nutshells, sericea lespedeza, several oak leaf species, nettle, worm wood, wild ginger, conifer, goosefoot, tobacco, the mustard family, seeds from vine plants, lupines, chrysanthemum, cedar, tansy, yarrow, valerian, common knotgrass, and the apiaceous family -- including carrots, anise, cumin, parsnips, and fennel. Wild garlic and willow are important in the early spring.

Short-term grazing of wood lots in the spring especially on poplar leaves and stems helps detoxify cattle from a winter on freeze-dried and/or moldy grass. Remember that many of these plants are at least somewhat poisonous and their poison properties reflect the soil conditions and weather patterns. Many of the imported evergreens, such as Japanese yew, are deadly in very small amounts.

Warning: Never feed clippings from unknown evergreens or ornamental plants to cattle unless you are positively sure of what you are doing. Then do so in extremely small amounts.

Cattle will safely self-medicate themselves when we follow a few rules:
• Do not starve cattle into consumption.
• Allow for plant recovery before grazing.
• Do not move hungry cattle onto wet lush pastures.
• Have long stem dry matter readily available when forage is lush and washy.
• Several plants become toxic and sometimes more palatable after chemically spraying or frost.

Nature always moves toward plant diversity and maturity in front of the herd. Nature loves self-medication but allows for detoxification. Understanding and utilizing the fullness of the natural model demands study and knowledge of wholes. Hugging a few trees does not count.

The list of plants with positive properties is near exhaustive. Most herbs and woody species have positive health affects when the rules are followed. Some are immune stimulators. Some are diuretics and flush out toxins. Others are high in natural tannins and astringents. All have a place as they speed soil correction and feed minerals and trace minerals from the subsoil.

The take-home message is twofold.
1. Complete plant recovery adds huge plant diversity which adds anti-parasiticals to cattle diets on a daily basis.
2. Complete plant recovery includes 70 and more days in most locations, which is also anti-parasitical.

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