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Rain welcome, frost may bring new problems for cattle

Rain welcome for winter wheat, pastures. Frost may mean prussic acid poisoning in cattle eating johnsongrass.

Recent rains will be helpful for fall pastures and winter wheat, but forecast frost may create a new set of difficulties for livestock producers.

“This rain will definitely help growth of fescue, clover and winter annuals for fall pasture,” said John Jennings, professor-forages for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “The cold night temperatures drastically slowed bermudagrass growth already and the forecast temperatures this week will stop warm-season grass growth for the season.”

The National Weather Service in Little Rock said Tuesday that below-normal temperatures were expected to continue through Friday, with a freeze possible in the far west and northwest, and frost possible in some northern and western valleys.

Jennings said the potential for frost will bring up the danger of prussic acid poisoning from johnsongrass, which has become very prevalent this year due to the drought and thin pastures.

“A heavy acorn crop in some areas is bringing up concerns about acorn poisoning in cattle,” he said. “The cattle are seeking out acorns, especially where pastures are already short.”

Acorns contain tannic acid, which can cause digestive and kidney problems. Symptoms of acorn poisoning include lack of appetite, rough hair coat, a dry muzzle covered with dry, crusty blood, abdominal pain, excessive thirst, frequent urination, and thin rapid pulse. There usually is not an increase in body temperature.

For more about acorn poisoning in livestock see here.

In Miller County, Staff Chair Doug Petty said his county, one of the driest in the state, received more than a half an inch of rain, but it’s “not enough to plant wheat and ryegrass safely, but might help fescue, if there is any left.”

Keith Perkins, Lonoke County Extension agent, said “this rain will give us a little more growth on our summer grasses, but most importantly it will give us moisture to sprout the winter annuals already planted, or allow producers to plant winter annuals this fall. Grazing is always cheaper than feeding hay.”

In Arkansas, rain is a normal part of harvest, Perkins said, but this year for the most part it has been left out of the equation. Tuesday’s light rain, “just keeps producers out of the fields for a few days.”

The rain is timely for winter wheat.

“This rain will give us enough moisture to get our wheat crop out of the ground and off to a good start. We are in the ideal time for planting wheat in central Arkansas.”

Rain from the week of Oct. 10, “is already gone,” said Robert Goodson, Phillips County Extension agent. “There was not really enough rain last week to affect anything except delay field work.”

In drought-ridden Ouachita County, Extension agent Jaret Rushing said that what little the county got, “we welcomed every drop with open arms.”

While the water is welcome for pastures and fall gardens, “it will be short-lived if we get (the predicted) frost,” he said. “That will be enough to kill any fall tomatoes, peppers and anything else not equipped to handle the sub-40-degree temperatures.”

For more information about livestock and crop production, visit or contact your county Extension office.

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