Forage growth is ahead of schedule and so are reports of bloat in pastured cattle, says Craig Carter, director of the University of Kentucky (UK) Veterinary Diagnostic Lab.

Between Jan. 1 and April 3, the lab confirmed seven cases of bloat in central Kentucky, Carter reports.

“All forages are about three weeks ahead of schedule due to the warm temperatures we’ve had,” adds Ray Smith, UK Extension forage specialist.

Legumes, which are high in soluble protein, can cause the formation of a slime-like substance that traps gasses in the rumen, Carter explains. Being unable to expel gas can cause the animal’s rumen to stretch. As pressure increases, breathing is affected, which can lead to death from suffocation. Cattle can die from bloat as quickly as an hour after grazing begins, but death more commonly occurs after two to three days of grazing a bloat-producing pasture.

The main symptom is a swollen left abdomen. Others include repetitive standing up and lying down, kicking at the belly, frequent defecation and urination, grunting and extension of the neck and head. If untreated, the animal will collapse and die within three to four hours after symptoms appear.

Carter and Smith say producers can reduce the risk of bloat by following these practices:

● Grow grass-legume mixtures instead of pure legumes.

● Avoid grazing immature legumes. Research has shown that cattle grazing legumes less than 10” tall have twice the occurrence of bloat compared to those grazing legumes 19” tall.

● Do not put animals on legume-rich pastures when the pastures have moisture on them from rain or dew.

● Cull animals that have frequent bloat.

● Do not remove animals from a pasture when bloat symptoms first appear. Continuous grazing causes fewer incidences of the condition.

● Give them access to water and minerals.

● Watch them closely after a significant change in the weather.

● Feed bloat-reducing compounds.

For more information, read the UK publication Managing Legume-Induced Bloat in Cattle.