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Know What is in the Pasture

With the dry conditions, plant growth has been minimal in many areas. Limited new growth forces animals to find and consume old forage along fence lines, old yard sites, and slough areas. Cattle are curious and can find batteries, oil or fertilizer spills, and machinery parts that can cause harm.

Lead found in the plates of batteries is poisonous. Cows will lick and eat parts of the batteries. In Alberta, lead poisoning is one of the Regulated Animal Diseases ( that must be reported to the Office of the Chief Provincial Veterinarian. Old batteries, lead paint from old buildings, and soil contaminated with oil (when leaded gasoline was used) are all possible sources of lead.

Oil is high in selenium. Oil stored in open containers or poured on the ground can be consumed by cattle. Selenium toxicity can be acute (fast) or chronic (long exposure). Animals that have consumed very high levels of selenium usually do not survive.

Fertilizer spills can cause animal losses. Ingestion of fertilizer increases the ammonia concentration in the blood which can cause poisoning. As little as 250 grams of urea (46-0-0), 40 grams of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0-24) or 1100 grams of ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) can kill animals. Spills need to be cleaned up. Turn cows into pastures after the broadcast fertilizer has dissolved completely and no prills can be observed.

Ingestion of metal can cause hardware disease. The sharp pieces can either cause an irritation in the reticulum or puncture a hole in the stomach wall. The first symptom is a decrease in appetite. The metal then can also puncture the heart sac.

Water quality is another concern. With limited runoff, many dugouts didn’t fill this spring. Soluble minerals such as sulfur can be higher than normal. Polio can occur. Animals will consume less water when Total Dissolved Solid (TDS) levels increase. This reduces the amount of feed an animal will consume. Bottom line is that livestock will not gain as much weight compared to animals that have good quality water.

Inspecting pastures prior to animal turn out can reduce potential problems. Observe where animals are grazing. If they are in areas that were not previously grazed, walk these areas to identify potential problems.

For more information, contact Barry at 403-741-6032 or


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