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Condition called ‘frothy bloat’ killing Kentucky cattle

Published on 17 August 2010

A potentially fatal condition called “frothy bloat” is afflicting Kentucky cattle herds and prompting state officials to ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture to include the condition in a program allowing farmers to request reimbursement for losses.

Kentucky Extension Service beef cattle specialist Jeff Lehmkuhler told The Lexington Herald-Leader that bulls, cows and stock cattle have all been hit by the affliction.

“It’s all categories of beef cattle being impacted,” Lehmkuhler said.

In general, the cattle affected by frothy bloat, technically called primary ruminal tympany, have eaten too much clover. Though clover improves pasture quality, ingesting too much of it can be damaging because it can cause fermentation gases to be trapped inside the cattle’s stomach, Lehmkuhler said.

The clover produces a foam inside the cattle’s gastrointestinal tract that prevents them from being able to burp. When the gas can’t escape, the stomach expands, like a balloon, and presses on the diaphragm. That can lead to suffocation.

The presence of clover is linked to the state’s droughts in 2007 and 2008, state Department of Agriculture officials said. The droughts weakened the grass in pastures, allowing clover to gain more of a foothold. When heavy rains came in 2009 and primarily in May of this year, the clover began to grow higher and faster than the grass.

“You’ve got them all the way from the small guy to the folks who have bigger herds who have lost up to 10 to 20 head,” said Dave Maples, executive vice president of the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association.

The Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service recommends that cattle producers contact their local county extension agent for additional information.

Sandy Gardner in the governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy, said the state has sent a letter to the federal Department of Agriculture but has not heard back.

Lehmkuhler has studied the spread of the condition around Kentucky. The survey suggested that just 1 percent of the cattle represented had died. But, Lehmkuhler estimates, those losses mean almost $5 million in revenue gone.  end_mark

From The Associated Press

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