With wheat fields struggling amid drought conditions through parts of the High Plains, some producers may be considering cutting and baling their crops for hay. If so, “the sooner, the better,” says a Kansas State University research and Extension veterinarian.

“The beards (awns) on bearded wheat can cause oral problems in cattle if the heads are fully developed and mature,” warns Larry Hollis.

A lot will depend on how hungry the cattle are when fed the hay, says Hollis. If other feed is available, they likely will pick around the heads to avoid being injured inside the mouth by the beards.

“But, if wheat hay is the primary diet component, producers will probably see some cows that don’t look full, because their mouths have become too sore for them to continue eating readily, even though adequate hay is available. It’s also possible cows will salivate or have swollen tongues or faces,” he says.

If signs such as salivating are present, the inside of the cow’s mouth should be checked for beards that may need to be removed. A shot of long-acting antibiotic may also be indicated, to help control secondary infection.

Another approach to help prevent problems, he says, would be to grind the wheat hay to break up the beards before feeding.