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Pasture problems and how to avoid them.

Various steps can be taken to help keep risks at a minimum:

1. Hardware Disease: Hardware disease is not a disease, per se, but rather damage to the digestive system caused by livestock consuming stray metal, normally wire or nails, during regular grazing or when being fed hay. It can be fatal. The problem can be reduced by frequent inspections to pick up small stray metal objects, especially along old fence lines.

2. Bloat: Bloat generally occurs when cattle or sheep consume large quantities of legumes in a short period of time. The gas produced distends the rumen to the point where it reduces and can even cut off breathing completely.

When grasses comprise at least one-third of the stand, bloat danger is lessened. Livestock should not be turned into pastures when they are overly hungry (feed them hay first) nor if the forage is wet with dew or rain, particularly if made up largely of legumes. If legumes dominate, the livestock should have ready access to dry hay or other grassy pastures and plenty of salt and water. Introducing livestock to a legume-based pasture gradually will also be beneficial.

Research in New Zealand indicates the pasture weed dock may be a bloat inhibitor.

One "old time" treatment of less than acute bloat was to run a rope through a piece of rubber garden hose and then tie the hose in the animal's mouth like a bridle bit. Apparently the animal's chewing on the hose helped to work up gas from the rumen.

3. Colic: Colic is a blockage of the intestines and is apparently caused by excessive consumption of dry feed without adequate consumption of water. This condition can occur in pastures under droughty conditions, or if an animal gets into a grain supply. Livestock should have access to good quality water at all times and grain stocks should be kept well secured.

4. Plant Poisoning: Most poisonous plants are restricted to rough, swampy, stony or relatively inaccessible places and woodlands. Even then, certain plants may only be poisonous during certain times of the year or when they are mature. The danger of poisoning can be reduced by avoiding overgrazing in areas where poisonous plants occur and by keeping soil fertility high to discourage them. Usually poisonous plants are less palatable than the commonly grazed forages and livestock will not eat them unless they are hungry and forage is scarce.

5. Spring Flush: After a diet primarily of hay during the winter months, livestock may suddenly develop loose bowel movements on spring forage growth. This is not diarrhea, per se, but rather the fact lush spring growth can be so high in moisture content it is passing through the animals without a chance for much digestive action. Livestock can actually lose weight during this period. The corrective action is to continue to provide hay for bulk until the forage matures further. In New Zealand, hay is fed only when necessary and this is one of those times.

6. Summer Slump: Summer slump is believed to be caused by grazing mature warm-season grasses (e.g., timothy, bluegrass, wheat, wheatgrass, rye and ryegrass, orchardgrass, Bermuda grass and, in particularly, tall fescue) infected with a particular fungus during hot weather. Symptoms are a rough hair coat, loss of appetite leading to reduced or negative rate of gain and reduced milk production, rapid breathing, increased body temperature and a desire to remain in the shade or stand in ponds to try to cool off. Summer slump is usually not fatal but loss of production can be significant.

Tall fescue is popular as a forage due to its growth during the hot summer months. Fungus-resistant fescues are available but have not stood up to intense summer grazing. This problem occurs most frequently in stands dominated by mature tall fescue and can be reduced by a mixed forage, including deep rooted legumes and herbs, kept at a young and tender stage (e.g., through rotational grazing or periodic pasture clipping).

Of course, some summer slump is due just to hot weather (mad dogs and Englishmen and all that). In hot climates, breeding some Brahman-strain, into cattle will help increase heat tolerance. Research at Mississippi State indicates long-rumped sheep are better adapted to hot weather than short-rumped ones.

7. Grass Tetany: Symptoms include nervousness, aggressiveness/fighting, hypersensitivity, muscle twitching and staggers while walking. Acute cases may involve inability to stand, spasms of the legs and convulsions, leading to coma and death. "Spring Tetany" generally affects cows, usually in the 10-week period after calving; and sheep, usually those with multiple births in the one-to-four week period after lambing. "Winter Tetany" can strike livestock restricted to low-quality grass hays. Grass tetany is thought to be due to low intake of magnesium, and possibly calcium, from very rapid growth in grasses as forage or cut for hay.

Symptoms can be relieved by treatment with Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) at the rate of one ounce per day for sheep and calves and two to four ounces per day for adult cattle. In severe cases, a handful of Epsom salt placed in the animal's rectum may bring a rapid response as the magnesium in it is absorbed through the rectal lining. Primary preventive measures include maintaining fertile soils (with the right amount of phosphorous present) to promote magnesium absorption by plants, ensuring your supplement mix contains an adequate amount of magnesium and calcium and introduction of legumes and deep rooted herbs into the pasture as they have a higher magnesium and calcium content than most forage grasses. Many weeds also have high mineral and trace element levels.

8. Southern Cattle: Cattle in the south have long had a reputation for doing poorly, yet were desired animals to be taken to the corn belt feedlots since they would fatten out well on a feedlot mix. Recent research indicates the problem may be a selenium deficiency even in areas where the soils are not considered to be selenium deficient at the current time. A selenium deficiency may compound the impact of fungus infected fescue. Be sure your supplemental mineral mix includes selenium, although researchers still are not sure what the ratio should be. 9. Milk Fever: Milk fever is seen about two days after calving, particularly in older dairy cows. A similar condition can develop in sheep shortly after lambing. Symptoms of milk fever are restlessness, poor appetite, general inertia, muscle tremors and staggers (but no elevated temperature). Milk fever is apparently caused by a calcium deficiency in the blood brought about by the sharp loss of calcium through the initial onset of lactation (although the animal's body will rapidly adjust to produce the level of calcium required). Preventive measures include feeding mixed legume and grass hay or silage prior to early spring birthing, including calcium supplements (e.g., bonemeal) with feed for about a week after birthing and grazing on pastures containing clovers and other legumes. 10. Acorn Poisoning: While non-ruminants such as pigs can thrive on a diet heavy in acorns, their consumption can cause tannic poisoning in ruminants, particularly in calves. Acorns from the red oak family are a far greater danger than those from the white oak family. The danger can be reduced by restricting access to oak acorns begin to fall. Wildlife (or the family pig) should pretty well have the fallen acorns cleaned up by spring. Where withdrawal is not feasible, using a feed which includes up to 10 percent calcium hydroxide (hydrated lime) has been found to be beneficial.

11. Drought: Look for forages with a reputation for drought-resistance -- normally those with deep and/or extensive root systems. They generally thrive during normal weather and may carry you through all but severe droughts. Remember that herbs, such as chicory, have deep taproots and can provide grazing during droughts. Pastures which are deep tilled occasionally (to break up hardpans) and which have a high humus content will also tend to withstand droughts better. Their porous condition helps to both catch and retain any rainfall. You want to capture and retain as much of the rainfall as possible during a droughty period.

12. Winter Kill: Winter kill can be reduced by selecting species with a reputation for cold-hardiness. Don't expect a southern-oriented grass to survive a northern winter even if it is a perennial. Frost heave can throw crown plants, such as alfalfa, out of the ground. Frost heave is less in soils with a high humus content as it tends to dampen out the freeze/thaw cycle. Some plants, like kale, can even provide winter grazing if strip grazed.

13. Insect and Plant Disease Attacks: Both of these seem to attack plants which are stressed from the weather or growing conditions, such as low soil fertility. A soil high in humus, minerals and trace elements, fungi, bacteria, molds and earthworms, with the proper moisture level, will go a long way towards producing insect and disease-resistant plants.

14. Livestock Fertility: Is there a direct correlation between the decreased fertility (and overall health) of livestock and the increased use of limited species for forage and regular application of inorganic fertilizers? In reading old books on farming, livestock on diverse cropped farms don't seem to have had nearly the health problems being experienced today (once the problem of deficient trace elements was recognized).

15. Baling Mixed Grasses and Legumes: Determining when to cut mixed grasses and legumes is difficult since each species matures at a different rate. As mentioned earlier, many warm-season grasses can be infected with a livestock performance inhibiting fungus which becomes more acute as the plants mature. Dallisgrass seedheads can become infected with ergot which, when baled as hay, can cause ergot poisoning. It appears that mixed grasses and legumes should be cut when either is in the early boot (seedhead formation) stage.

16. Calcium Deficiency: Your pasture soils may be severely deficient in calcium even if your pH levels are high. For an interesting book on this subject send $1 1.00 to Growers Fertilizer Solutions, 321 Huron St., Milan, OH 44846 for a postpaid copy of "More Food Through Soil Science: The Natural Chemistry of Lime in Agriculture" by A.J. Tiedjens.

17. Availability of Minerals and Trace Elements: Chances are you take a "one-a-day" vitamin and mineral pill "just-in-case." Why not then apply that concept to your livestock. While mineral and trace element mixes are readily available at places like feedstores, consider using a natural product, sea kelp, instead. Produced from sea water, kelp includes almost all of the essential minerals and trace elements in a natural form, rather than a mix of the basic elements as in the normal feedstore mix.

Research has indicated organic minerals (e.g., in kelp) work best when passed directly through livestock, while inorganic ones (processed or mined) work best when applied to pasture and are then taken up by plants. Although the levels of minerals and trace elements are lower, apparently the plant hormones and vitamins also present in kelp make them more effective. As a test, put out both feedstore mineral mix and dried sea kelp and see which your livestock prefer.

An East Coast source of Icelandic kelp livestock supplement is the Necessary Trading Co. (P.O. Box 305, New Castle, VA 24127, 800-447-5354, catalog on request). A Canadian source of dried kelp is Acadian Seaplants Ltd., (Natural Agricultural Products, 202 Brownlow, Tower D, Suite 304, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada B3B 1T5, 902-468-2840). They also have dealers in the U.S. Although kelp is harvested off the California coast, I am unable to locate a source of supply for it, nor can I determine if it is also used as a livestock supplement. If a reader has any information on this aspect and/or West Coast sources, please let us know.

Jeffers (Box 100, Dothan, AL 36302, 800-JEFFERS, catalog on request) carries four seaweed/kelp-based supplements designed specifically for horses.

A free-choice mix which is reported to produce good results is two parts stocker salt, two parts dried kelp and one part diatomaceous earth. Calcium can be provided as a supplement with the mix or offered free choice also. Most livestock will consume supplemental minerals and trace elements as they need them.

Trace elements are sometimes of importance to plants also. For example, alfalfas may require annual application of fairly small amounts of boron (agricultural borax) and cobalt to do well.

You may have noticed a theme running through this article. In order to provide healthy pastures, and in turn healthy livestock, a wide variety of forages (e.g., grasses, legumes, herbs and even palatable weeds) should be provided, and an effort should be made to build-up the humus-level and overall fertility in the soils. This is a cycle-type process: fertile soils encourage the activity of bacteria, fungi, molds and earthworms, which, in turn promote release of minerals and trace elements to the plants to be consumed by livestock, which in turn help build up fertility through their grazing action and manure. Plus you have the retention of moisture in humus-rich soils to help the entire process along.

An axiom may be, "Take care of your soils and they will take care of you."

(This article was not intended to scare anyone off from raising livestock, as producers may never encounter any of the above problems. However, they do occur and should be kept in mind. Your veterinarian or county extension agent should be able to tell you what pasture and/or livestock problems are prevalent in your area and how they are normally handled. Call your veterinarian quickly if you run into a situation you cannot handle.)
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Author:Scharabok, Ken
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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