Pasture bloat in cattle

After eating hay all winter, the cattle will be giddy the first time you turn them out on pasture. They’ll suck down the lush, green forage like it’s their last meal. Unfortunately, it might be.

A condition called “bloat” happens when gas develops from eating high-protein forages. Foam becomes trapped inside the rumen, the rumen swells, and can kill the animal within an hour if not treated.

David Fernandez is an extension livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas. He says one of the keys to preventing bloat is to feed animals something fibrous before turning them out on new pasture.

"Go ahead and feed them some hay, make sure that they’ve had their morning fill, and then turn them out and let them start grazing on it. Don’t let them have it all at once. You can limit-graze them where you turn them out on the pasture for a little bit and then push them back off of it," says Fernandez. "Just kind of gradually work them onto that over the period of a week or so."

An animal that develops bloat will have swelling on the left side of its body. They’ll be obviously uncomfortable, kick at their belly, stomp their feet, and may grind their teeth.

Fernandez says if you suspect bloat, tap your fingers on the animal’s left side. It will sound hollow, like a drum. Treat it immediately with a surfactant to break up the surface tension of the foam.

"Bloat Guard is one of the products that’s used, basically it’s a nonionic surfactant, and that’s also a detergent. In a pinch you can use Dawn dishwashing liquid. A couple ounces of Dawn dishwashing liquid in maybe a pint of water, get that down into the rumen through a tube," he says. "You have to be careful not to get the fluid down into the lungs but that surfactant will break up the foam, and allow that gas to escape."

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