Wildflowers can cause cattle problems

Bruce Schultz  |  3/13/2019 6:46:36 PM

(03/13/19) JEANERETTE, La. — Experts from the LSU AgCenter talked at a field day on March 9 about wildflowers being potentially fatal to cattle, determining cattle age by dental inspection, the current cattle market and the basics of cattle digestion.

About 85 people attended the event at the AgCenter Iberia Research Station.

Dr. Matt Welborn, of the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, said buttercup, common in pastures at this time of the year, can be fatal in a large amount, although cattle rarely eat it. The plant is no longer toxic after it dries, so it is not a threat in hay. The weed is best controlled with 2,4-D in December through March.

The plant called yellow top or senecio can cause liver damage and weight loss, but the signs usually are not evident until four to six months after an animal eats it, Welborn said.

Jessamine, or yellow jasmine, is poisonous, and it remains leafy and green in winter, he said.

Even small amounts of lantana, a common landscaping plant, can cause problems such as liver damage and blindness. And sicklepod or coffee weed can cause muscle damage, Welborn said.

Welborn, along with AgCenter agents Stan Dutile and Andrew Granger, demonstrated how cattle age can be estimated by inspecting the shape and condition of their teeth.

“You can be pretty accurate up to four years old based on transition from baby, or deciduous, teeth to permanent teeth,” Dutile said.

But that dental condition can vary based on environmental influences. “If you’re on sandier soil, you get wear-down quicker,” Granger said. Teeth that are worn smooth are likely to be an indication that a cow should be culled.

AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry said the wet, cold weather this winter has hurt weight gains at feedlots, which has helped keep beef production more stable and has stabilized prices.

“As we began the expansion phase of the cattle cycle, there were concerns of calf prices falling below a dollar per pound as beef production began to increase,” he said. “But very strong domestic and export demand has been able to offset growing supplies and help limit downside price movement.”

Chances are good that prices will return to last year’s levels, and grain prices will remain cheap, Guidry said.

AgCenter ruminant nutritionist Guillermo Scaglia explained the biology of a cow’s stomach, which is divided into four compartments.

The ruminant depends on the rumen microbes to break down all the feed components. For example, cellulose, the structural component of a plant’s cell wall, can be digested by the rumen microbes but not by the animal itself, he said.

Rumen microbes need 7 to 8 percent crude protein in the diet to survive and play their role in the digestion process, and supplements such as fishmeal can be used to boost protein levels. But cattle will not eat fish meal alone, so it has to be blended with other ingredients, he said.

Whole corn for feed is a waste of money because a cow’s system cannot digest it, and most of it is eliminated in feces as consumed. On the other hand, feeding too much finely ground corn can cause bloat, he said.

Cattle ruminate or chew their cud to break down feed into smaller pieces, increasing the surface area for better digestion, Scaglia said.

AgCenter forage specialist Ed Twidwell showed producers test plots of annual ryegrass treated with fertilizer and products such as Agrotain and Super U to prevent nitrogen fertilizer losses from volatilization.

Fertilizer is best applied before a rain to incorporate the material into the soil, he said.

AgCenter forage specialist K.J. Han said a slow-release fertilizer may provide a consistent forage. Although it costs about 30 percent more, it only has to be applied once, he said.

Rogers Leonard, LSU AgCenter associate vice president, said much of the research currently ongoing at the Iberia Research Station will be transitioned to the Dean Lee Research and Extension Center near Alexandria, which has more land and available resources. Scaglia will continue to have an active presence with the work and animals at the Iberia station, he said.

Scaglia is coordinating the development of an Advanced Master Cattleman Program. Other programs he will conduct include upcoming introduction to artificial insemination workshops on April 11 at the Iberia Research Station, on April 25 at the Dean Lee Research Station and on April 26 at the Idlewild Research Station.

“The beef cattle extension program is well-organized, and there will be numerous opportunities for cattle producers to participate in educational programs across the state,” Leonard said

Allen Hogan with the Louisiana Master Farmer Program said 254 people have successfully completed the program, and 23 have been recertified.

Attendance at the field day would satisfy Phase II of the program.

Dutile announced that he and Granger will hold another class of the Louisiana Master Cattleman program this fall. Anyone interested in the class should contact him at 337-291-7090 or Granger at 337-898-4335.

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LSU AgCenter ruminant nutritionist Guillermo Scaglia shows a handful of partially digested grass removed from a cow’s stomach. Scaglia explained the digestive process of cattle during a field day at the AgCenter Iberia Research Station near Jeanerette. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

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Dr. Matt Welborn, of the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, left, explains how to estimate a cow’s age by inspecting its teeth. Holding the cow’s mouth open is Stan Dutile, LSU AgCenter agent from Lafayette Parish. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

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LSU AgCenter forage specialist K.J. Han explains fertilizer strategies for pastures during the Iberia cattle producers field day at the AgCenter Iberia Research Station. Photo by Bruce Schultz/LSU AgCenter

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