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by Jim White, MFA
Acorns start to drop off oak trees in early fall, and drought tends to cause acorns to shed even sooner. For whatever reason, cattle seem to like the recently fallen acorns. This affinity may be a feed availability issue.
But cattle can be poisoned by acorns as well as oak tree buds and very young leaves. It’s a problem for all ruminants, but goats are far more resistant than cattle. The oak toxins are “gallotannins,” which are tough on the kidneys. Cattle eating excessive acorns will have lower dry matter intake and they may appear weak and listless. Affected animals tend to “hunch up” and may have off-color or bloody manure. Often there will be sores in the mouth. The animals will also suffer from dehydration.
The best way to prevent losses from acorn poisoning is to fence them out of areas where there are oaks, but often this is not possible. Offering supplemental feed will help reduce the animals’ inclination to pick up acorns. Making sure they stay hydrated will help.
Ask your vet for specific treatments for acute cases. My experience has been that cattle exposed to acorns for a long time do not respond well. Prevention is more effective than treatment.
According to the Merck Vet Manual, consumption of a pelleted ration (1 kg/head/day) containing 10-15% calcium hydroxide plus access to more palatable feeds may be used as a preventive measure if exposure to acorns or oak leaves cannot be avoided. Calcium hydroxide, ruminatorics and purgatives (such as mineral oil, sodium or magnesium sulfate) may be effective antidotes if administered early in the course of disease. The Merck manual also states that fluid therapy to correct dehydration and acidosis and transplantation of ruminal microflora may be beneficial. Recovery usually occurs within 60 days, but chances may be reduced if renal dysfunction is severe.
One of the most practical means of getting the calcium hydroxide and other aids to help alleviate the problem is to offer the MFA Performance First 20% Shield tub (#4472704) as the preferred choice. Second choice is the MFA Performance First 16% tub (4472804). Our green tub, UL 3101 20% AN tub (#4456104), could be used if either of those is not available. It is not effective to use the low-intake All-in-One (#4456204) tub, nor is it effective to use a “cooked,” low-moisture tub.
If you are going to feed calcium hydroxide, provide cattle 0.2-0.25 lb. per head, per day. Calcium hydroxide is hydrated lime or “builders lime.” It is dusty and noxious to handle, but not as bad as calcium oxide, which is “burnt lime” or “quicklime.” If you put calcium hydroxide into a grain mixer to top-dress feed, keep moisture away. Dry, oily ingredients cattle like to eat work the best as carriers, such as extruded soybeans or dry distillers grains. When it gets wet, calcium hydroxide sets up like mortar, which is why it is used in the brick and block masonry trades.
It is much easier to use pressed or poured tubs rather than to add calcium hydroxide directly. In a key, albeit dated, study on what to feed for acorn poisoning, Dollahite et al (1966) suggested a 24% protein, 7% fat, 10% calcium hydroxide supplement to be fed.
Again, prevention is the best medicine, but being aware of the symptoms and quick action are keys to having cattle survive acorn poisoning. Contact the livestock specialists at your local MFA affiliate for more information on the best supplementation options.
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CLICK HERE to Read More Dr. White articles at Today's Farmer Magazine online.