Articles on forages, animals, and grazing systems
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Extension Forage Specialist
University of Kentucky
Phone: (859) 257-3358
Fax: (859) 323-1952
Grazing forages during the summer months is a great way to reduce stored feed costs. However, there are some risks that come with grazing certain forages and weeds. It is important to be cautious this summer to reduce the risk for prussic acid poisoning, as prussic acid poisoning tends to be worse during times of drought.
Prussic acid poisoning occurs when plants such as sorghum, sudangrass, sorghum-sudan hybrids, Johnsongrass, wild cherry, and others contain cyanide-producing compounds. Wild cherry and Johnsongrass have much more risk than the other forage species listed above. If large amounts of these forages are consumed, especially after frost or during severe drought, then prussic acid (cyanide) is produced and interferes with oxygen utilization and livestock can die from respiratory paralysis. Symptoms appear quickly after the forage is consumed. These symptoms may include cherry red colored blood, staggering, labored breathing, spasms, foaming at the mouth, falling, thrashing, severe convulsions, and death. If an animal is seen showing these symptoms, seek immediate treatment for these animals by a veterinarian.
To reduce the risk of prussic acid poisoning, consider some of the following management tools: