LAMONI, Iowa — Pasture ground is valuable resource. Farmers sometimes get a rude reminder of that fact.
Julian Toney, who operates Toney Ranch, had a serious problem last year when his cattle began dying and he wasn’t sure what was happening. What he discovered is that when a county crew cut and chewed up some trees in the road ditch, the remains of those trees ended up in his pasture.
“We have just fought it and fought it and fought it,” he says of the animal health issues. “We happened to be the only cow producer with cattle next to the road.”
The trees were red cedar and in the quantities consumed they caused toxicity problems, he says.
It’s an unusual problem, but University of Nebraska Extension forage specialist Bruce Anderson says it does serve as a reminder to farmers about the importance of pasture.
“Pasture should not be a dumping ground,” Anderson says.
There are certain trees or weeds that can cause toxicity problems in livestock. Red maple and choke cherry trees, many kinds of oak trees and Japanese yew can all cause problems.
In most cases, these problems are minor or are easily avoided. Livestock death usually only happens where livestock ingest a large amount of leaves or other roughage from those trees.
The same is true of most weeds that are toxic. In the majority of cases, the animals don’t eat enough of the toxic material to cause death. In part that’s because many of the toxic items aren’t very palatable, so cattle, sheep, pigs and horses choose to eat other things if available.
Horses, and other non-ruminant animals, often are more susceptible to toxicity problems than ruminants.
The biggest problem often occurs in drought situations where the animals may not have other good alternatives.
Among the weeds, water hemlock is a problem. It grows in creeks and road ditches and other low, wet areas. Again, it isn’t very palatable, so in most situations it doesn’t cause serious problems, but if an area is overgrazed it could be an issue.
One problem Anderson sees is that sometimes farmers, in an attempt to eliminate the problem, actually make it worse. For example, if the farmer decides to spray or cut the weeds, they may become more palatable or more toxic. The best advice is often to leave the weeds alone but to keep an eye on the situation, he says.
One other way toxicity problems sometimes arise is when a farmer is baling hay and goes through a weedy area where toxic plants are dominant, putting a large amount of toxic material into one bale. Again, simple awareness of pasture or hay conditions is the best weapon, Anderson says.