Animal Management Tip of the Month: Warning for Prussic Acid or Cyanide Poisoning

Prussic acid poisoning occurs when livestock graze certain plants that contain cyanide-producing compounds. Such species include, but are not limited to, sorghum, sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids, Johnsongrass, and wild cherry. Cyanide can interfere with oxygen utilization in livestock, especially if consumed in large amounts. Symptoms appear quickly after consumption and may include cherry red colored blood, staggering, labored breathing, spasms, foaming at the mouth, falling, thrashing, severe convulsions, and death.

Forage Testing

Testing your forages can be a useful tool to minimize feeding costs while maximizing animal production. Forage testing provides the nutritional value of pasture, hay, or silage. It is important to know the quality and nutrient content of feed to calculate an efficient feed ration and mineral supplementation program. Balancing rations based on these test results are necessary to promote animal health and production while keeping feeding costs to a minimum. Knowing the nutritional value of your forage will also ensure that you are getting the right price for your hay when marketed. 

Weaning Calves on Pasture

Beef calves often experience stress during the time of weaning, and limiting this stress can help daily gain. Four main types of stress affect calves: physical, environmental, nutritional, and social. These issues can be avoided or at least minimized with proper calf

Freezing Effects on Forages

Prussic Acid (Cyanide) Poisoning

As temperatures continue to decrease, it is important to know and understand how various species of forages react to frosts and freezes in order to best utilize these forages and to avoid possible health problems. Freezing changes the metabolism and composition of plants. Depending on plant species, this can create possible forage-related animal disorders or the need to alter grazing management practices. 

Timely Tip: Grazing Alfalfa After a Freeze

A frost or freeze can greatly affect how one uses alfalfa later in the year. Although frost-damaged alfalfa is not toxic, one should be cautious when grazing alfalfa after a hard freeze (less than 25˚F) as the threat of bloat increases after the freeze. Once wilting starts risk of bloat is reduced. Waiting a few days after a freeze is a good practice to decrease this risk when grazing alfalfa. If forage is needed and you plan to cut alfalfa for hay late in the year, cut after the first hard freeze or in early to mid-November.

Timely Tip: Frost and Freezes Increase Cyanide Poisoning Risk

Cyanide poisoning, more commonly referred to as prussic acid poisoning, can have a very abrupt and deadly effect on ruminant livestock grazing forages and requires careful management as frosts and freezes begin in the area. Plants, such as sorghum, sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids, Johnsongrass, wild cherry, and others, contain compounds that produce free cyanide when these plants are damaged by frost or drought conditions. Grazing these plants when they are producing young shoots (less than 18 to 24 inches tall) also increases the risk.

Grazing Cover Crops

The amount of pasture acres has decreased in Kentucky the last several years while the amount of row crop acres has increased. With this increase in row crop acres, grazing cover crops in cropping rotations has generated some interest. People feel that grazing cover crops is the final step in making a cover crop program reach its full potential. Producers who are in the crop business as well as beef cattle industry say that grazing cover crops helps significantly save on feeding costs. Research has shown cover crops help improve the soil health at the same time.

Grazing Corn Residues

Grazing remaining residue following corn harvest is one way to extend the grazing season and lower feed costs. Winter feed costs are the largest expense and grazing corn residues offers a way to significantly reduce those costs. According to the Iowa State University Beef Cattle Center, for every acre of corn residues grazed, approximately a ½ ton of hay will be saved. Grazing crop residues will not impact crop yield the following year. Also, adequate residue is left on the field to reduce soil erosion.

Grazing Corn

Many options exist to provide quality grazing during seasons when many common forages have gone dormant. Some non-traditional forages can provide high quality grazing throughout the early fall, late winter, early spring, or hot summer months. Grazing standing corn or corn residue can be a valuable method to extend the grazing season and reduce stored feed needs without the expenses of harvesting and feeding equipment. Corn is mainly produced in Kentucky by livestock producers for grain or silage but this warm-season annual grass can be successfully grazed in summer, fall, or winter. 

Late Summer Nitrogen Application: Will They Pay in 2015

We are close to the point where some livestock farmers would start to apply nitrogen to tall fescue pastures to boost production levels and stockpile for fall and winter grazing. Since there are many factors that will impact the profitability of this practice, the question at hand is: Under what set of conditions will applying nitrogen to pastures pay this year?