The risks of weeds in hay
Protecting precious paddocks
THE dry weather has certainly sky-rocketed costs to feed your livestock, and ground surface water supplies are mostly gone or are being piped from miles away to paddock watering points.
Any on-farm reserves of hay or grain are very short or gone altogether by now as we all look to survive until significant rain arrives.
Unfortunately, weather reports are not promising so unpredictable summer storms may be our best rain opportunities for the future.
And there will be a future, as there has been in past times after cruel drought conditions. In the meantime, we all just look to survive across the agricultural sector.
I had a report recently that several cattle had perished after eating contaminated or mouldy hay. That is fairly sad and very difficult to guard against in these desperate feed-shortage times where any fodder with wrap or strings around it is very needed and welcome by livestock owners.
Unfortunately, the hay may also contain weed seeds which may not be detrimental to your livestock health but you certainly would not wish them in your good grazing country or cultivation blocks.
With my family background in hay production, my father Alec was taught to be cautious, as I was, with any baled hay developing heat, mouldiness or powderiness deep inside the bale.
Too much moisture at baling time and then the baling action of compression with the heat generated can lead to various powdery toxins forming. Some of these toxins are harmless and others to hungry livestock are deadly or can give permanent setback in growing and development.
Not only can toxins form from poor curing capabilities of the fodder concerned, this desperately needed fodder may also contain toxic plants. Once again, hungry livestock may gorge themselves on this part of the hay bale and fatalities can ensue.
My own experience with declared weeds was with a plant called apple of sodom, which is one of the solanaceae family, of which plants like nightshade and potatoes are also part of.
Many years ago in the south Queensland area, this curious-looking plant with those standout purple five-point flowers and spikes down the leaf centre grabbed me, literally, while I was closing a farmer’s front paddock wire gate.
It was on the roadside area and I did not get too excited as I would have if it had been parthenium, however I did identify it and discovered it was a southern plant mostly and was a declared weed in many southern states, including WA.
Originating from the African nations, it was originally assumed to have some medicinal purpose, which later proved to be false.
How it got in Western Downs country was interesting and I believe it came there by some tillage machinery from South Australia being unloaded in that roadside area years before. It never seem to escape that isolated bit of country even though it seeded very well.
Of course in this day and age, many of us are concerned about herbicide resistance. We certainly have enough of our own weed problems like feathertop rhodes and sowthistle, plus many others, which have developed herbicide resistance to different modes of action.
We certainly do not want to import a plant or seeds of annual ryegrass with its wide suite of herbicide mode of action resistance levels.
So what to do in these hard times with fodder hay that may or may not have troublesome weed seed in them?
Well, one way is feeding in a controllable location. By controllable I mean that if something nasty grows there in a few months’ or years’ time, you can take action to eradicate that weed before seeding takes place and spreads elsewhere on your property, or your neighbour’s.
Yes, I do realise that livestock consuming weed seeds may or may not spread viable weed seed all over your country, however that is a bigger problem that you need to be vigilant about in the future.
Some prevention tactics would be to simply ask where the hay is originating from and even contact the supplier to chat about possible plants that are in the hay or grain.
Vendor declarations are handy and can certainly bring home to the seller or producer that they have a duty of care to be upfront with their declaration.
While we have biosecurity laws in Queensland – as do other states – preventing contaminated material containing pests and weed seeds spreading across the nation, things like fire ants are a localised Queensland problem and you certainly do not want to import them to your property in hay bales.
So be vigilant in these tough times and a simple request from fodder suppliers may prevent trouble in future wetter times.
TOUGH TIMES: Paul McIntosh warns of the risks of weeds and weed seeds in fodder hay.