Cattle experts offer suggestions for dealing with issue
By MATTHEW WEAVER
More crooked calf syndrome appears to be affecting Western cattle this year, a USDA researcher says.
Kip Panter, research manager with the USDA Agricultural Research Service Poisonous Plant Research Laboratory in Logan, Utah, said he's hearing of more instances of the disease in Washington, Oregon and Idaho this spring, receiving eight calls compared to the usual one or two.
Panter estimated 400 to 500 calves are affected, based on the calls he's received.
"They're not all severe enough that they have to be put down, but they're obvious enough that the rancher has identified them as something wrong," Panter said. "We know there's more than that out there."
Tom Platt, area extension educator for Washington State University Extension in Lincoln and Adams counties, recently sent a survey to 40 Washington ranchers in the central part of the state, from Lacrosse, Wash., to Kahlotus, Wash., a previous hot spot for the disease.
Platt wants to know if the problem is more widespread.
Crooked calf occurs when pregnant cows eat the plant lupine, which contains a toxic chemical. When the cows eat the lupine between 40 and 100 days of gestation, it paralyzes the calf. If it lasts long enough and the calf doesn't have normal fetal movements, its limbs become distorted or the palate doesn't close, Platt said.
Crooked calf typically becomes a problem after a year or two of good rainfall, Platt said. It causes new lupine plants to grow.
Panter is asking for lupine samples to analyze the chemistry and confirm toxicity. He's asking veterinarians or extension agents for information, such as breeding and pasture times and the cow's location.
Younger mother cows seem to have more problems, Panter said.
"The first-calf heifers are oftentimes more curious and have a smaller, tighter uterus," he said.
Some second- and third-calf heifers are also showing a higher rate of incidence. "These are younger cows, they're more active," Panter said.
Platt said the best way to avoid crooked calf is to switch from spring calving to fall calving or to avoid the pastures with the problem lupine during the hazardous period for the cows.
"Those are the two methods that are sure to work, but they're both difficult to do for ranchers," he said.
Other ranches rotate their pastures every 10 days, forcing the cows to eat a different feed so paralysis doesn't last long enough to cause damage, or use protein supplements to entice cows away from the lupine.
The research center has a research project in the Benge, Wash., area to introduce higher quality forage to keep cattle from the lupine. Platt said monitoring the test plots will go for another year or two. The center is also examining the protein supplement method.
For more information, contact Platt at 509-725-4171 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Panter at 435-752-2941.
Calf signs to watch for
Kip Panter said the research center recommends ranchers not be too hasty in putting down an afflicted calf.
If the calf can stand and nurse, it will survive, he said.
If the calves can't lock a knee joint in the front legs, they will likely break down more and not work in a feedlot situation.
"We tell the ranchers that if the calves can lock that joint, even briefly for a few minutes, the chances of that calf growing out of it and being functional is pretty good," Panter said.