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By Dave EdmarkU of A System Division of Agriculture
LITTLE ROCK – Temperatures are expected to fall below freezing across much of Arkansas
by this weekend, which should prompt cattle producers to use caution before allowing
livestock to graze fields of johnsongrass. Prussic acid (hydrocyanic acid) can result
from the frost and can be toxic to the livestock.
“Frosts in the fall can wilt tops of the plants, causing them to become toxic,” said
John Jennings, extension forage specialist at the University of Arkansas System Division
of Agriculture. “Prussic acid toxicity can kill cattle quickly, often before a producer
has a chance to observe that the animal is under stress.”
Johnsongrass has spread widely across the state in the past two years because of summer
rains and has become dominant in some fields. Johnsongrass isn’t the only forage
to produce prussic acid. It can also develop in sorghum/sudan, greengraze, grain sorghum
and forage sorghum after a frost.
Jennings advised producers that livestock shouldn’t graze johnsongrass for at least
seven days after the first killing frost. “The key visual clue for safe grazing after
frost is when the frosted plants become completely dried out and paper-brown colored,”
he said. “Do not graze it at night when frost is likely. To reduce risk even farther,
don’t turn hungry cattle directly out on johnsongrass pasture. Make sure they have
grazed other forages first or fill them up on hay.”
Prussic acid dissipates as the plants dry out, Jennings said. Properly dried johnsongrass
hay does not contain prussic acid and is safe to feed. Silage may contain toxic quantities
of prussic acid, but it usually escapes in gaseous form while being moved and fed.
If frosted forage is ensiled, allow fermentation to take place for at least six weeks
For more information, ask for a copy of FSA 3069 Prussic Acid at your county extension
office, or download it from: www.uaex.uada.edu/publications/pdf/FSA-3069.pdf.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity,
sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran
status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative
Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
Media Contact: Mary HightowerDir. of Communication ServicesU of A Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service(501) 671-2126