Certain weeds cause health problems for pregnant cows
By MATTHEW WEAVER
Researchers will demonstrate ways to entice pregnant cattle away from plants like lupine and reduce weeds at a range renovation meeting.
The Washington State University Lincoln, Adams and Spokane county extensions will host a range renovation plot viewing from 3 to 5 p.m. June 7.
The free event starts at one of the plot locations on the Nave pasture four miles north of Washtucna, Wash., on Hasse Road.
Plots with a mix of native range grasses will be compared to those introducing forages like desert and crested wheat grass, Russian wild rye and forage kochia, which is different from the annual weed kochia.
The USDA Agricultural Research Service's Poisonous Plant Research Laboratory in Logan, Utah, initiated the plots with the Forage and Range research center, also in Logan.
They are studying how to move cattle away from consumption of lupine in order to control crooked calf disease, which causes birth defects in pregnant cows when they eat too much lupine. Another goal is combat the weed medusahead rye.
In 1997, a crooked calf outbreak was nearly "catastrophic," said Kip Panter, research leader at the lab. Panter said the crooked calf is improving as ranchers become aware of the risks, but the disease moves in cycles due to lupine populations and weather patterns. Panter said he wouldn't recommend eradicating the lupine, which draws moisture from lower profiles and provides high protein levels.
"The problem is you've got to keep the cows away from it during that sensitive stage of gestation during pregnancy," he said, noting that period is 40 to 100 days into the pregnancy.
Another option is to have pregnant cows on safe pastures. Other animals do well with lupine as long as they're not pregnant, Panter said.
Panter and Tom Platt, WSU extension educator in Davenport, Wash., both say there are currently risks associated with ranchers possibly planting the new forage plants.
Platt advised farmers be prepared to ask what equipment and steps are required and the potential cost.
"It's expensive," he said. "It's like buying your ground again, almost."
More research is needed to determine good selections for the land, Panter said, noting the trial is only in its first year.
"At some point in time, we hope this might change the whole dynamics of these guys up there with grazing," he said. "Our purpose is to hope the livestock industry be more productive and lose less animals."
For more information, call Platt at 509-725-4171.