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Researchers provide update on crooked calf, range forage crops


Capital Press

Washington ranchers will discuss efforts to get rid of a weed linked to crooked calf syndrome when Washington State University Extension hosts a viewing of range renovation plots.

The event begins at 9 a.m. May 15 on Spencer's Figure 50 Ranch between Lamont and Ritzville, Wash.

The goal is to replace invasive weeds with improved grass and forage kochia species, providing cows with better forage plants instead of lupine, said Kip Panter, supervisory scientist for the Poisonous Plant Research Laboratory in Logan, Utah.

Crooked calf syndrome occurs when pregnant cows eat lupine at 40-100 days of gestation. The lupine, which contains a toxic substance, paralyzes the calf. If the grazing lasts long enough and the calf doesn't have normal fetal movements, its limbs become distorted or its palate doesn't close.

"The cattle can still graze a certain amount of lupine without any danger," Panter said. "It's when that becomes a predominant forage source that we get a crooked calf scenario."

Panter estimated some ranches experience 3-5 percent crooked calf.

Last year, WSU Extension Educator Tom Platt sent surveys to 40 ranchers to inquire about crooked calf, but said he received replies from less than half. Any problems were confined to a few locations.

There is speculation that wet years may promote lupine germination and increase crooked calf incidents the following year, Platt said.

The event also includes a presentation on the new Five-Star Watershed program on the North Fork Palouse River in eastern Washington. According to the program, livestock producers are working on a peer-to-peer stewardship program to improve water and soil quality, animal health and profit, among others.

John Pearson, rancher and farm supply store owner in Colfax, Wash., hopes the program will promote the cattle industry's good agricultural practices as it becomes established. A recently formed board of directors meets regularly to plan the initial steps in the certification process.

"The ideas has sparked a lot of interest," Pearson said. "I'm looking for as much input as letting people know what we're doing. We think we have a pretty good idea."

Contact Platt at 509-725-4171 or plattom@wsu.edu .


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