Frost, al­falfa and bloat not a good combo for cat­tle pro­duc­ers


Do you have al­falfa or clover re­growth that you’re plan­ning on graz­ing this fall? Are you wor­ried about bloat? Should you be wor­ried about bloat?

With re­cent frosts and a de­cline in avail­able pas­ture, many pro­duc­ers have been in­quir­ing about turn­ing their cows out onto al­falfa re­growth.

Legumes such as al­falfa and clover can cause bloat in cat­tle. Non-bloat legumes in­clude species such as birds foot tre­foil, sain­foin and ci­cer milk vetch. Bloat caus­ing for­ages are di­gested rapidly whereas bloat safe for­ages are di­gested more slowly.

Al­falfa and clover can cause frothy bloat if not man­aged prop­erly. Frothy bloat re­sults from the quick degra­da­tion and fer­men­ta­tion of plant ma­te­rial and rapid re­lease of plant cell con­tents. Gases are trapped in a thick foam in the ru­men and the cat­tle are not able to burp to re­lease the gas.

The first killing frost also plays an im­por­tant role in bloat. Frost pre­serves the stage of growth at which the al­falfa is at, at that point in time.

Sec­ond growth may be im­ma­ture, and im­ma­ture plants are the more likely to cause bloat. With a killing frost, the frost dis­rupts the plant cells and in­creases the rate of cell break­down. The plants must then de­hy­drate or des­ic­cate in or­der to be­come safe for con­sump­tion.

The plant cells in a lush, young al­falfa plant are very turgid, like a re­cently blown up bal­loon. A bal­loon that you’ve just blown up is easy to pop, thus re­leas­ing plant cell con­tents rapidly. As al­falfa ma­tures and the num­ber of frost events in­creases, the risk of bloat de­clines.

The plants be­gin to wilt and the plant cell bal­loons be­gin to de­flate, so to speak, and it takes more time for degra­da­tion to oc­cur, thus re­duc­ing the risk of bloat.

For pro­duc­ers who are con­cerned about bloat here are some con­sid­er­a­tions:

If pos­si­ble, of­fer an­other source of dry for­age along with the al­falfa.

Don’t turn out hun­gry cows. Al­low the cat­tle to con­sume their nor­mal feed in the morn­ing and in­tro­duce them to the al­falfa in the af­ter­noon.

In­tro­duce the al­falfa slowly, to al­low suf­fi­cient time for ru­men mi­crobes to adapt to the change in feed.

Con­sider min­i­miz­ing the area cat­tle have to graze – this will en­sure that cat­tle are not only se­lect­ing the leaves and fines but will force them to clean up the more fi­brous stems as well. The more fiber, the less chance of bloat.

If you need more in­for­ma­tion on graz­ing al­falfa and man­ag­ing bloat, con­tact your lo­cal Re­gional Live­stock & Feed Ex­ten­sion Spe­cial­ist or the Agri­cul­ture Knowl­edge Cen­tre at 1-866-457-2377.

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