Treated wood has many applications on farms, ranging from posts treated for ground contact to dimensional lumber used in facilities. If you pay attention to good carpenters you can see that they pride themselves on leaving few trimmings at the end of the job. While I admire their efficiency, the truth is most of us must trim a board or a post when building fences or facilities.

These treated wood scraps are the main focus of my article today, as they pose some risk to our livestock if not handled properly. Industry recommendations are for all scraps to be disposed of at approved landfills in accordance with any local ordinances. Also, such treated wood should not be burned under any circumstances. Follow the label.

Sounds kind of easy until you get to the practical application of this recommendation. Let’s consider an illustration. Take the commercial fencing contractor who at the end of the day is finishing up a neat, straight fence along road frontage where everyone will see his work. A finishing touch is to trim all posts to conform with straight lines and the visual appeal designed into this beautiful fence.

In most fencing jobs, brush clearing is included to open up a place for the fence to be built. Brush piles are usually located near by and become a “logical” place to dispose of post scraps. The problem comes when these brush piles are burned. When treated wood is burned, ash and charcoal residue is left behind, and burn piles can be located in the field with livestock present. Cattle seem to be drawn to burn piles and a cold burn pile in a cattle pasture is sure to have tracks all around.

If foot prints were all they left behind it would be fine, but cattle are curious and tend to smell and lick new things to find out how they taste. Ash and charcoal seem to be appealing, possibly for minerals. In any event, cattle that eat this treated wood residue can pay the ultimate price, death if they ingest enough. There have been three such cases over a three-county area, two in one month. All three involved a veterinarian who diagnosed the cause of death and in each case, there was a burn pile involved. Send your scraps to the landfill, follow the label.

There are a variety of other items that can end up in a brush pile, leaving residue behind which will harm our grazing livestock. Avoid burning anything but natural brush, and limbs in burn piles situated in areas your livestock access. However, some of this natural material like yard trimmings could also be toxic to livestock. A good example would be fresh yard trimmings from evergreen shrubs. The yew plant in particular is a poisonous plant that if ingested in the right amounts, can cause death.

Maybe a burn pile is not such a good idea in your pasture field as it has the potential to draw items not intended for livestock to consume.

Carl C. Stafford is a senior extension agent in Culpeper County with the Virginia Cooperative Extension.

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