DRC_Zach Davis

Zach Davis

The colder weather has brought about a few changes, and producers should be prepared. Our first cold spell was enough to stress or kill Johnson grass and other Sudan-type grasses in the majority of the county.

As we get into fall and continuous colder weather, farmers are gearing up for wheat planting in a lot of areas.

Prussic acid in Johnson grass

Johnson grass is a warm-season perennial invasive grass that is grown all over the county and most of the southern United States. It can grow up to 6 feet tall if left unmowed. When in favorable conditions, the grass can be a good forage for livestock and cattle hay. Most producers have some Johnson grass in their hay fields. Through the hay-cutting process, prussic acid is released as the plant dries out before baling.

In pastures, stressed Johnson grass produces a buildup of prussic acid in the plant that is lethal to cattle and other ruminant animals. As ruminants consume plant materials containing cyanide-producing compounds, prussic acid is liberated in the rumen, absorbed into the bloodstream and carried to body tissues where it interferes with oxygen usage.

When lethal amounts are consumed, animals can die without visible symptoms of poisoning, but bloating is a common symptom seen. Symptoms from smaller amounts include labored breathing, irregular pulse, frothing at the mouth and staggering. When large amounts of prussic acid are consumed, it can be lethal in hours.

Horses are not as susceptible to prussic acid poisoning due to differences in their digestive system. Being a monogastric or one-stomached animal, they are capable of breaking down prussic acid. On rare occasions, prussic acid poisoning can occur. If so, it is usually lethal.

Farmers on the move

Consistent cold weather brings a green light for farmers to begin planting wheat. A large percentage of farmers grow wheat in Denton County in some capacity. A very small amount of winter wheat has already been planted and emerged, but the majority will be planted in the next few weeks.

Wheat is ranked third in field crops produced in the United States. The winter annual must be grown in a prepared seedbed with a seeding rate of 30 to 120 pounds to the acre, with a planting depth of 1 to 1 1/2 inches.

ZACH DAVIS is the agriculture and natural resources extension agent with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. He can be reached at 940-349-2889 or via email at zadavis

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