Drought Conditions Can Cause Toxic Reaction For Some Types Of Grass

Ranchers are keeping a close eye on cattle as the dry heat becomes a breeding ground for deadly toxins in certain types of grass.

Friday, July 29th 2022, 5:08 pm

Ranchers are keeping a close eye on cattle as the dry heat becomes a breeding ground for deadly toxins in certain types of grass.

Some ranchers in Oklahoma are reporting cattle deaths because of toxic poisoning.

"There's nothing easy about what we're dealing with right now," said Ross Sestak, 4-H Educator for OSU Extension in Lincoln County. "We went from extreme wet to extreme dry almost immediately. Planted crops when it was too wet and then trying to harvest or keep crops alive when our whole water index has dropped down. In many places we're at below a .3 and a .15 is our threshold. So, we're extremely dry and we're located in southeast corner of Lincoln County and the Northern Part of Pottawatomie County."

Ross Sestak owns a 5th generation livestock and production farm in Oklahoma and said he's also dealing with a hay deficit.

Sestak said it's always something. "It can have devastating impacts all the way through and eventually effect you at the grocery store and prices," said Sestak.

Agricultural experts said, with triple digit temperatures drying out the ground, many plants in the sorghum family may be deemed deadly to cattle.

Johnson Grass is one of Oklahoma's most invasive plants and can be a cause for concern when growing in hot and dry conditions.

About a decade back, Sestak lost several cows to toxins in grass.

"If you can afford to throw $1,000 in bills away, you can kind of equate it to that. Every time you drop one, just as well $750-$1,000," said Sestak.

"Things that can stress Johnson Grass, or a sorghum family are gonna be like a killing frost, herbicide applications and severe drought." said Augustus Holland, AG/4-H Educator at OSU Extension.

Expert Augustus Holland said Johnson Grass can produce a toxin called Prussic Acid.

"You're gonna see that in the young vegetative green part, or the young growth in that Johnson Grass up in the leaf matter where cattle are more apt to want to bite into it," said Holland.

Holland said it releases a cyanide gas that can kill cows within minutes.

He said one good thing that came out of nitrogen fertilizer being so expensive is that many people didn't apply a whole lot this year.

Toxic nitrates can also build up within the lower part of the stem when stressed.

Holland said we are desperate for significant, drought-ending rain. "It'll last for about a week before those nitrates will actually start to drop," said Holland.

Experts with OSU's Extension Office recommend grazing Johnson Grass early and often in the spring while there's more rainfall and mild to moderate temperatures.

They told us there are a couple of toxic grass treatment options as well.

OSU has extension offices in all 77 counties, and most of them can test grass for toxins before sending samples off to a forage lab that can give parts per million to know exactly what you're dealing with.

Click here for more information.


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