With the current rainfall we have had, our pastures have grown. This spring has also brought a lot of clover to our pastures. I don’t think I have ever seen this much clover, especially white clover. And along with this clover comes the problems it presents.
I have had a lot of clients with cattle on clover call and wonder what has caused their cattle to die. Clover is a legume and being very sweet and tender cattle love it. So, they lay their heads down and mow it off at the ground level. In the rumen of the cow it starts to ferment, like all feeds. But, it will create gas. This gas is created to an extreme to where the cow cannot belch it off as fast as it is being created. Thus, bloat!!! If the gas is not released the cow will die.
This always reminds me of being a kid and my Dad watching the news and weather at 10 pm. We were in western Kansas and pasturing wheat. If the weather man said we were to get a frost, Dad would load us up and we would head to the pasture to get the cattle off for the night. The frost on wheat would cause almost every animal to bloat and try to die. The only way at that time to prevent it was to get them off the pasture. Now due to my nutrition instructor at K-State we have products like poloxalene which will prevent bloat from wheat and clover. Normally cattle need to just eat 1-2 ounces of this product daily to prevent bloat from legumes and wheat pasture.
Another problem with clover is with horses. In the last week I have had 3 calls with horses down. The owner thinks they are colicking. Well at least it wasn’t colic, but the horses had eaten enough clover that they were foundering; clinically what is called laminitis. Their feet hurt! When a horse founders and gets laminitis it actually is a shutdown of blood supply to the feet. This pain is analogous to us doing fingertip push-ups while something is slowly and I do mean slowly ripping off our fingernails and toenails. Now think about the pain with that. Believe me I do.
This grass and clover just has too many carbohydrates in it for the horse to metabolize. Then we get a toxin released from the gut that shuts down blood supply to the feet. As a general rule of thumb, about the time you have to start mowing your grass, that’s the time you need to lock the horse up off the pasture. Because of the saying, “Eat like a Horse”, and they do. They just eat way too much of this grass and cause themselves many problems. Our grass is just too potent for horses to be on this time of year. It means management and effort to manage them properly. The old adage to turn them out and let them be a pasture ornament, just doesn’t work with fescue and clover.