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Toxin in stressed grass kills two cows in state

July 2, 2012

Dr. Tom R. Troxel


Two cows – one in White county and the other in Van Buren county – died of prussic acid poisoning, a cyanide compound found in several types of grasses when they are stressed by drought or frost.


“Of all the plants grown in Arkansas, those belonging to the sorghum category are most likely to contain potentially toxic levels,” Tom Troxel, associate head for animal science with the University of Arkansas System Agriculture Department, said Friday. “Grain sorghum contains the most, followed by Johnson grass, sorghum-Sudan hybrids and then pure Sudan grass.”


Troxel said Johnson grass – believed to be responsible for the deaths – may be of most concern since it grows wild and infests many grazing areas.


Symptoms include anxiety, progressive weakness and labored breathing, and death may result if enough of the poison is consumed.


Precautions include not allowing animals to graze drought-damaged plants in any form, regardless of height, within four days after a good rain and not allowing animals to graze wilted plants or plants with young regrowth.

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