Potentially Lethal Grass Poses Risk To Cattle Farmers

US - The first frosts of this fall and the end of two years of drought have created a potentially deadly combination for cattle in East Tennessee.
calendar icon 2 November 2009
clock icon 1 minute read

It's a weed that has forced Lenoir City cattle farmer Bill Campbell to take major precautions reports WBIR.

"We raise red angus beef cattle," Mr Campbell said glancing toward his 63 cows, all herded on one side of his farm. He's keeping them off his other, grassier pasture for a reason.

"Whenever this has died completely, then we'll be able to move my cattle off the short pasture," Mr Campbell said about the tall, dry-looking grass spotting his winter pasture.  He's refering to Johnson grass.  "It's a hard grass to get rid of. In this frosted stage, it's very dangerous," Mr Campbell said.

"[After a frost] it releases a toxin called prussic acid, which is cyanide," said UT Extension Loudon County Director John Goddard.

The last few frosts over the past couple of weeks have damaged the grass, but haven't fully killed it.  That creates a lethal danger for cows, because it will regenerate with the cyanide concentrated in its sprouts.

During the drought, cattle farmers who had the weed on their pastures were the lucky ones, because it can grow without a lot of moisture.

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