Reported cases of frothy bloat in cattle are up quite a bit in 2010 compared to recent years.

Several University of Kentucky College of Agriculture specialists weighed in with possible explanations for the higher incidence of bloat. Ray Smith, Extension forage specialist, said he and his colleagues have been in regular contact with livestock producers and industry representatives throughout the state.

“We have heard about and seen an over-abundance of white clover in many pastures this year,” he said. “This has raised concerns about bloat, and a number of producers have experienced death losses due to bloat in their cattle herds.”

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Smith said there are several reasons for the high percentage of white clover this year, going back to the drought years of 2007 and 2008. During those years, Smith explained that many pastures in Kentucky were over-grazed due to restricted plant growth, and they simply could not sustain the number of cattle present on most farms.

“Even the pastures that were not over-grazed had thin stands as many pasture plants died due to drought,” he said. “Simply put, there was just not enough forage to support the normal number of cattle raised on Kentucky farms.”

Normal precipitation returned in fall 2008 and spring 2009, and white clover seed that had been dormant in the soil for years had bare soil and perfect conditions to germinate and grow. That led to a higher-than-normal abundance. Ample moisture continued throughout 2009 and into 2010. Smith said white clover began to take over many pastures.

“Although clover is very high quality and desirable as forage, too much of it can lead to bloat in grazing cattle,” said Garry Lacefield, Extension forage specialist at the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton.

“We’ve been looking at all the factors that could be causing this increase in ruminal tympany (bloat) including weather and pasture make-up and management, and we’ve also been trying to determine the number of livestock that have been impacted by the situation,” said Jeff Lehmkuhler, UK Extension beef specialist. “Extension specialists put together a brief questionnaire to gather information.”

The questionnaire was sent to UK Cooperative Extension agents, and they were asked to pick 10 to 20 random producers in their area to complete it. It was also sent to cattle producers via the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association to obtain a greater number of responses.

Specialists received 295 responses to the questionnaire, representing 65,822 head of cattle. This consists of all classes of beef cattle including cows and stocker calves. Of the responses received, more than 36 percent indicated they had lost cattle to bloat this year. The number of operations experiencing bloat losses, based on questionnaire data, is double that of respondents who lost cattle to bloat in previous years. The number of cattle lost to bloat, based on questionnaire response was 670, or approximately 1 percent of the cattle represented in the questionnaire responses.

With 42 counties represented in the results, Lehmkuhler said the data is still not enough to provide a clear picture of the severity of the situation.

“It is important to keep in mind when reviewing the results that not every county is represented,” he said. “In fact, no eastern counties and few western counties submitted questionnaires. Many of these counties are large beef counties. There is no certainty the data obtained accurately reflects the magnitude of this unique situation.

“However, it is evident that many beef cattle producers are suffering financial losses, both in the form of death loss and preventative management. Further, the economic impact was a very simplistic approach, and we recommend further analysis to determine more precisely what the loss value may be for Kentucky’s cattle industry.”

UK Extension specialists recommend producers continue to monitor and assess the legume content in pastures to assess the bloat risk. Sound management can effectively minimize livestock losses to bloat, and assessing the risk allows for a better decision as to when producers can stop preventative strategies or whether they need to be continued. Producers should contact their local county Extension agent for additional information.