Cattle may be showing the effect of the drought, not necessarily by poor weight gain and performance, but with mortality by what they are eating. The drought has proven to be detrimental not only to field crops and pasture, but to livestock whose food choices have been compromised, and some of those choices have caused death.

The drought is bringing some unusual problems to the forefront for livestock producers, says Kansas State University (KSU) veterinarian Larry Hollis. He says weedy plants may have more drought tolerance and will out-compete desirable grasses and begin their proliferation. He also says when the desirable species of grasses have been consumed, they fail to re-grow in the drought, leaving only the weedy species in a green state. Hollis says both these scenarios can become a problem if the weedy plants contain toxic components. He says when pastures are not properly managed or forage is short, livestock are left with little choice but to consume toxic plants. And he says they will eat toxic plants if starved.

Also at KSU, another veterinarian, Gregg Hanzlicek, was asked to solve the death of several calves on a drought-ravaged ranch. He says the area had been through 2-3 years of drought conditions, but the herd was well-managed and there was plenty of milk for the calves. Hanzlicek says there was little grass for grazing and the calves were grazing on multiple weeds, one of which was found to be toxic. The calves were found to have died from liver toxicity.

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