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glucosides, but under certain conditions,
cyanide-containing prussic acid
can build up in certain plants. These
plants are especially dangerous following
“Grazing plant varieties that are low
in prussic acid, following fertilization
recommendations, and not grazing
until plants have adequate maturity,
are some ways to help avoid prussic
acid poisoning,” Lemrick advises.
“Don’t graze these forages right after
a frost, and if you’re grazing them or
feeding them as green chop, dilute
the animal intake with hay and other
types of forage.”
HOW MANY TOXIC PLANTS?
The USDA (United States
Department of Agriculture) lists nearly
40 species of toxic plants found in the
western United States. Several kinds
of grass can cause toxicity due to the
different types of fungi that grow on
them. Fescue toxicosis results from
grazing endophyte-contaminated fescue
grasses. Ergot poisoning (a fungal
disease of rye and other cereals)
comes from grazing small grains and
grasses with ergot contamination.
Nitrate poisoning can occur when
cattle graze on forage that is too high
in nitrate-nitrogen or when they consume
weeds that are high in nitrates.
The most severe nitrate toxicity
Lemrick has witnessed occurred many
years ago after a major forest fi re outbreak
near Salmon, Idaho.
“During that summer, the smoke
was so thick it blocked sunlight,”
Lemrick recalls. “There were times
during daylight hours when most
drivers used their headlights. I know
of several head of cattle that consumed
hay grown during that time
and then were lost to nitrate toxicity.”
Most plants can accumulate
nitrates, but small grain forages, such
as oats, triticale, wheat, etc., should
be monitored for nitrate issues.
“Some weeds are nitrate accumulators
and are very high in nitrates,”
Lemrick cautions. “Nitrates usually
accumulate in forages when the plant
is drought stressed or has grown in
excessively cloudy conditions. Very
high levels of fertilizer or manure can
also cause nitrate issues.”
Nitrate uptake in plants is fairly high
in early growth stages. If conditions –
such as excessive clouds – slow the rate
of photosynthesis, nitrates begin to
accumulate. Nitrates are more highly
concentrated in stems and leaves closer
to the soil surface. In the few hours following
a drought-ending rain, nitrate
uptake may result in undesirable nitrate
rates. Foregoing grazing for seven or
more days after a pasture/range has
received enough rain to sustain growth
helps avoid nitrate poisoning.
Toxic plants may show up in places
where they never grew before due to
seed deposits caused by wind, water,
or animals traveling through an area.
“Seeds can be deposited by live
streams of water or trapped in the
hair of animals and deposited in a
new area,” Lemrick explains. “Many
times weed seeds are spread through
feed and seed crops through activities
such as feeding hay that contains
toxic plant seeds. Weed seeds may
also be found in manure or feces of
domestic animals or wildlife.”
Vehicles and mechanical equipment
pick up seeds when traveling
through an area. People may also have
weed seeds stuck to clothing or shoes
and unwittingly deposit them in a
pasture/range area. It’s not uncommon
for some people to import and
plant toxic plants for ornamental reasons,
leading to the migration of the
plants to pasture/rangeland.
“Ranchers can decrease the chances
of spreading toxic plants by purchasing
certifi ed weed-free seed when
planting pastures,” Lemrick suggests.
“Buying feed and supplements that
are processed in ways that any seeds
JUNE / JULY 2020 I WORKING RANCH I 33