Acorns (copy)

Acorns are poisonous to livestock and should be avoided.

I learned this week my mechanic does not make house calls. It occurred to me that, in comparison, extension agents do. You see, the source of a problem is often clear when in person. My house calls come in the form of farm visits—a way to acquaint and reacquaint myself with farmers, and take stock of the growing conditions.

A farm visit earlier this week was made to help a new horse farm owner learn if there were any poisonous weeds in a recently purchased pasture. Finding none was a relief as the owner had horses currently in recovery with liver enzyme measurements, suggesting poisonous weeds as the cause. Several poisonous weed names were at the ready to explain this assumption.

When asked how it was known weeds caused the liver enzyme symptom, several photos were produced, but none of these were of poisonous weeds. So, the point of today’s article is this: Assuming you have the answer only stops you from looking further, possibly missing the real cause. Relax, we all do it, it’s easy. I did accept the premise of poisoning, offered by the veterinarian, and observed several other possible sources.

Yard clippings are a possibility, as neighbors—and my own family—often toss yard debris across the fence. Try not to do this. Keep it in the yard, compost it, burn it—assume livestock will eat it if tossed over the fence. Ask folks near Aylor about how this killed their cattle. Yew clippings were the cause. Acorns are also a possible cause and can be dropping at this time of year. The pasture of the farmer I visited did contain a nice white oak, but we spotted few acorns. Other oaks also produce acorns, be on the lookout for these, keep livestock away from the woods and edges where trees are. Wait for the fallen acorns to weather before permitting livestock to return to these areas.

Another possible cause is nitrate poisoning coming from drought and available nitrates delivered by some source of nitrogen such as fertilizer or manure. We have been dry and pastures can receive nitrogen. This toxin impacts blood oxygen, thus the term “blue baby” syndrome in humans. Of course, wilted cherry leaves will be toxic, as cyanide is released during wilting. Removing cherry trees may seem to be the answer, but scouting after storm events will do the trick. Fall panicum (a grass) can also cause liver enzyme issues in horses. It is a fairly common plant and its seed head (panicle) is different from most other grasses.

When there seems to be an obvious answer, maybe the real answer is equally obvious if you spend a little time making sense of things. If you believe there is poisoning from weeds and yet the weeds are not found, time to look for another cause. It too should be near at hand, possibly right under your nose. Kind of like when a greenhouse grower wanted to blame soybean farmers for damaging his indoor crop. It actually came from an herbicide application made right outside the structure. Air intake brought it in. Not so easy to accept blame, but very easy to place it on others who are high profile and easy to spot.

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Carl C. Stafford, a certified forage

and grassland professional,

is a senior extension agent in

Culpeper County with the Virginia

Cooperative Extension.

Tim Mize is also an extension agent in Culpeper, specializing in agriculture and natural resources.

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