Grazing Legumes and Managing Bloat

Legumes are some of our most productive pasture species. Alfalfa is the main hay legume used in Ontario because of its productivity, feed quality and tolerance of dry weather. However, producers who value alfalfa for stored forage are often hesitant to graze it because of the risk of bloat.

The gains on an alfalfa based pasture can approach 3.0 pounds per day. Gains of this magnitude bring pasturing to a whole new level! But symptoms of frothy bloat can appear very quickly. The consequences are often fatal, unless treated quickly. The good news? The management tools are available to reduce the bloat risk to almost zero.

There are a number of steps to attaining the positive results of grazing alfalfa and clovers:

  1. Graze when the legumes are in flower or close to flowering
  2. Move cattle to new pasture after the morning dew has dried. Wet legumes are more prone to causing bloat.
  3. Ensure cattle are not hungry so that they don't consume a large quantity of legume at any one time.
  4. Offer fresh pasture to livestock every 1-2 days and in a quantity that they consume both the leaves and stems, not just eating top leaves.
  5. There are excellent products available that are very effective at controlling bloat. The key is providing a daily dose for each and every animal.
  • Bloat Guard is a dry product that can be fed with a small amount of grain to act as the carrier. Bloat guard is available through feed dealers.
  • Alfasure is a liquid product that is administered through the water system. As with the dry product, a daily dose is critical to keep the animals bloat free. Alfasure is available through veterinarians. Both of these products will allow you to achieve the higher gains and increased productivity that legumes offer, without the fear of bloat.

The growth curve of grass based pastures provides abundant pasture in May and June, but often falls short in late-July and August. These two bloat control products give you the opportunity to graze the re-growth on legume hay fields with confidence.

These products only need to be fed when there is a risk of bloat. By starting a couple of days before entering the high legume pasture, you will have the rumen prepared for the alfalfa and the bloat risk will be very manageable.

Grazing legumes has many advantages. Following good management practices and using the bloat preventative products, Bloat Guard or Alfasure, allows you to reap these advantages.

For more information:
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