Drought could lead to livestock poisoning

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By Steve Moore

Drought and hot weather has increased the questions we are getting in the County Extension Office concerning cattle and cattle feeds.

While this should be simply a reminder to experienced farmers, some of it may be beneficial, especially to newer farmers. These tips come from Dr. Roy Burris, Extension Beef Specialist at the UK Princeton Farm, who is, by the way, a very wise and experience cattleman himself.

Beware of poisonous plants

Drought and hot weather increase the likelihood of cattle consuming poisonous plants. Several poisonous plants, like perilla mint aren’t normally consumed by cattle but since they grow in the shade where cattle are spending most of their time, cattle might now consume them. My suggestion is to take hay to these areas where cattle congregate so they won’t be as tempted to consume any “unusual” plants.

Keep water and shade available, of course

Don’t just assume that automatic waterers are working. Check them frequently.

Wean early

Early weaning of calves might be beneficial to minimize the nutrient needs of spring-calving cows

Calves can be fed to make efficient gains and sold as heavier, weaned calves.

Alternative feeds will be an option to decrease feed costs…so don’t be surprised at what folks will consider feeding. Check with Dr. Lehmkuhler or me if you have questions.

Nitrate poisoning is a real possibility

That is one of nature’s cruel tricks; folks are trying to salvage corn crop disasters but toxic nitrate levels are definite possibilities. Drought, heat, stunting and high fertility levels mean that increased nitrate levels are likely. Nitrate levels should be assessed before proceeding to salvage the corn crop. Corn plants with high nitrate levels should not be grazed, fed as green chop or cut for hay. Nitrate levels will not decrease in hay during storage. Ensiling can be a viable option since about 40 to 60 percent of nitrate is lost during fermentation but check for nitrate since extremely high levels might be difficult to overcome. Don’t feed the silage until it has had about 3 weeks to become fully ensiled. Cattle may become accustomed to low levels of nitrate if they are gradually adjusted to them.

Keep an eye on feed stocks

Cattle producers must keep an eye on their feed stocks for winter feeding. Many people had lower hay yields this spring and feeding now will likely decrease their hay reserves. They might consider purchasing feed now before prices get higher.

This is just a quick primer on drought related questions.

 Last week I had the chance to travel to south-central Kentucky for a meeting of County Extension Agents. Once I got south of Shelbyville, the look of ‘drought’ begins to increase, and in some parts of the state near Albany and Burkesville, there is not much green left on a farm. The green of the corn is the pale waxy color of corn under a lot of stress. My County Agent counterparts in the far west of the state paint an even worse picture – several corn fields are already considered a complete loss.

While the thunderstorms have been spotty in Henry County, we still have much better prospects for crops than other parts of the state. It would appear that hay is going to be needed desperately by our friends and neighbors to the south and west. Take all the hay you can, get it tested by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture Hay Testing Service at 800-248-4628, and have them list it on their website if you wish to offer any for sale.