Fall Toxicity Concerns in Beef Cattle

— Written By and last updated by Deidre Harmon
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Fall can bring about some toxicity issues with livestock. As with a lot of other aspects of 2020, some additional concerns seem to be showing up this year.

Acorn Poisoning

Acorn poisoning, which causes kidney failure, is more of a problem in feeder calves versus mature cows. Green acorns are more of a problem. Feeder calves may also be more inclined to eat the acorns if they are recently weaned, which makes them more curious and possibly feeling hungrier, especially if the pasture is thin. Symptoms include abdominal pain, excessive thirst, frequent urination, lack of appetite, a thin rapid pulse and rough hair coat. The easiest thing is to remove cattle from pastures with oak trees in them. If removing cattle onto another pasture is not an option, temporary fencing can be used to exclude them from areas with oak trees. Please see the publication titled “The Power Of One Wire” or the webinar titled “Effective Use of Electric Fencing to Improve Grazing Management and Enhance Soil Health” for more information on temporary fencing. There is no antidote to acorn poisoning. Producers with affected animals should consider fluids and electrolytes to keep the kidneys functioning. Once the kidneys stop working, there is really nothing you can do.

Dallisgrass Staggers

The wet weather that we have experienced seems to have kicked dallisgrass into overdrive. The seed heads of this grass can produce an “ergot-like” fungus in the late summer and fall, which can be grazed in pasture or consumed in hay. Affected animals show neurological symptoms, including trembling of the major muscles and the head and jerky uncoordinated movements. They also are easily spooked and sometimes aggressive. The animals will startle and run, and often will fall in unusual positions. In bad cases the animals will go down, and may stay down for several days. Convulsions and death can occur in extreme cases but is rare. It is often confused with grass tetany (magnesium deficiency) but dallisgrass staggers doesn’t appear as sudden death like grass tetany and doesn’t respond to grass tetany treatment. Rotationally graze pastures prior to seed head infection or clip infected seed heads prior to allowing cattle to graze area. If symptoms appear, remove cattle from infected pasture and provide high quality hay. If cattle consuming hay present symptoms, feed non-infected hay from another field or supplement with feed. Cattle will usually recover in 3-4 days after removal from infected pasture or hay.

Normal Dallisgrass seed head not infected by an ergot-like fungus.Infected Dallisgrass seed head infected by an ergot-like fungus.