Farm Bill Update Meetings are scheduled for Licking County

Do you have questions about your selection options available in the new Farm Bill?  The 2018 Farm Bill allows the choice to enroll in ARC or PLC for 2019-2023.  These programs are designed to help provide protection in case of yield losses or loss of markets.  Enrollment for 2019 is currently open with the deadline set as March 15, 2020. Join OSU Extension and the Farm Service Agency for an informational meeting to learn about changes to the ARC/PLC, important dates and deadlines, crop insurance – supplemental coverage option, and using decision tools to evaluate program choices to make informed program decisions. Click on this link for dates and locations. Farm Bill Flyer

Small Farm College coming to Licking County

Are you interested in learning how to make the most out of your acreage.  If so this eight-week course is just for you.  It will meet on Wednesday evenings starting January 22, 2020.  Our instructors will bring the knowledge you need to get your small farm up and going or improve the profitability of your existing farm.  We will introduce you to a wide variety of topics and help answer questions specific to your situation.  Details and registration information is in this flyer: Licking Small Farm College 2020  Registrations will be limited to insure interaction with instructors.  Please call 740-670-5315 with any questions.

Save the Date for Ohio Beef winter programs!

Mark your calendars now for the Ohio Beef Cattle Nutrition and Management School, to be held in 2 locations, with 2 sessions at each locale.  Session 1 will focus on utilizing small grains in the diets of all ages and production groups of beef cattle, utilizing alternative forages, and managing your herd or feedlot with lower quality feedstuffs.  This discussion will be led by our former OSU research nutritionist and current University of Georgia Department of Animal Sciences Chair, Dr. Francis Fluharty.  Session 1 will take place from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. in Sandusky County (location to be determined) on January 29th, and 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. at the OSU Newark Campus in Licking County on January 30th.

Session 2 will also be from 6-9:00 p.m. at the same locations on February 12th in Sandusky County, and February 13th in Licking County.  This session will feature talks by several OSU Extension Educators on marketing strategies, commodity market outlook, feeding for the grids/carcass quality, forage testing, and managing annual forages for grazing and hay.

The Ohio State University Extension Beef Team also plans to hold a hands-on, Ohio Beef Cow/Calf workshop at the Claylick Run Farm Sale Facility outside of Newark, in Licking County.  This workshop will be held from 10 a.m – 2:00 p.m., including lunch, with 2 different session, held January 30th, and February 13th.  Session 1 will focus on alternative feeds and forages, and managing beef brood cow nutrition, with discussion led by Dr. Francis Fluharty.  Session 2 will focus on herd health and reproduction with Dr. Les Anderson from the University of Kentucky, and include live demonstrations from OSU Extension Beef Team members on body condition scoring, bull breeding soundness evaluation, and semen handling.   Both sessions of the workshop will be held in a heated barn, with an informal, demonstration and question/answer type setting utilizing live animals and equipment.

The cost for the Ohio Beef Cattle Nutrition and Management School will be $40 and will include handouts, and snacks.  The cost for the Ohio Beef Cow/Calf workshop will also be $40 and will include lunch and handouts.  More details and information for both of these winter beef programs will be published as they become available later this fall.  For questions, contact Allen Gahler in Sandusky County at 419-334-6340 or, or Dean Kreager in Licking County at 740-670-5315, or


Nomination time for the Licking County Agriculture Hall of Fame!


Is there someone you know that has demonstrated life long exemplary service to their community and the industry of agriculture?  If so, we would like to hear their story.  Please complete the nomination form and return to the Licking County Extension office by December 31, 2019.  We are glad to help you through the process.  We have created a new application this year that can be completed online and emailed to me.   Click on the following link for the application: Hall of Fame Nomination Form 11.13.19 or stop by the office.

Get backyard chickens ready for winter

Winter and Your Backyard Chickens

Sabrina Schirtzinger, Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Knox County

Tim McDermott, DVM, Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Franklin County 

Raising chickens during the winter has challenges: decreased egg production, frozen water, and possible frostbite. However, there are management strategies that will keep your flock safe during the winter. Winterizing your chicken coop and daily monitoring of your chickens will help to keep your flock healthy, happy, and warm.

Choose Cold-Tolerant Breeds

There are several breeds of chickens that winter better than others. These include Ameraucanas, Ancona, Black Australorps, Black Giant, Brahma, Buff Orpingtons, Cochins, Delaware, Dominique, Langshan, New Hampshire, Plymouth Rocks, Rhode Island Red, Speckled Sussex and Wyandottes. While these breeds are noted for their hardiness in withstanding cold, note that a larger comb or wattle present in a breed or roosters of most breeds can be a location for the development of frostbite in an otherwise cold-tolerant breed. Strategies to avoid frostbite will be discussed later in this fact sheet.

Block Drafts 

Check the doors and windows of the coop for drafts. Make sure the doors and windows can be sealed tightly and locked as needed to maintain temperature. Inspect your coop for holes where air, moisture, or vermin can enter. To check for holes, turn the lights on when it is dark and walk around the outside of the coop inspecting the structure for visible holes. Address repair and maintenance of the structure in the warm weather in preparation for the upcoming winter. Ensure that spray foam insulation or caulk used to seal holes is not accessible to the chickens.

If you purchased a coop with several open fenced sides, consider purchasing heavy plastic or a tarp to cover the fenced sides. This heavy tarp is an effective temporary wall to prevent wind and moisture at the ground level of the coop and can be added or removed as needed. When blocking drafts, do not completely eliminate ventilation, but control the airflow to prevent humidity and ammonia accumulation.

Maintain Ventilation

While most chicken breeds can tolerate cold, even sub-freezing temperatures, complications can arise when wind and moisture are accompanied with cold temperatures. It is important to protect the birds from drafts and excess wind while still allowing ventilation. Maintaining air quality in extremely cold temperatures is critical to the health of the flock.

The buildup of ammonia from litter in a tightly sealed coop can cause problems over time such as respiratory diseases. While the buildup of humidity in a poorly ventilated coop will predispose the chickens to frostbite as humid air creates more frostbite risk than drier air. If a heavy plastic tarp was used to block drafts, ensure that the sides do not extend to the roof level to prevent adequate ventilation and allow excess moisture buildup.



Address drafts, snow, and rain with tarps or heavy plastic being careful not to extend the material to the roofline. Photo by Annika McKillop, DVM, MspVM, DACVP, McKillop Poultry Medicine.



Increase Bedding

To prepare the coop for winter, remove all used bedding and clean the coop prior to adding a large quantity of new, dry bedding for the winter. Bedding materials may include wood shavings or chips, straw, soft hay, ground corn cobs, or shredded paper. This bedding keeps the flock warm through an insulation effect.

Deep bedding can increase humidity levels, so litter management is critical in the winter months. Check the moisture level in the coop daily; when adding large amounts of bedding you will need to clean the coop more often and regularly adjust, mix, or fluff the bedding levels to provide a warm and dry coop.

Modify Feeding

Chickens will eat less in the winter than the summer. Each laying chicken requires 2 pounds of feed per week. Dual-purpose chickens require more, where bantams will eat less. Mature laying chickens need to be fed a pellet or crumble containing 14-17 percent crude protein during the winter. Chickens enjoy scratch, which is a mixture of grains (such as oats and wheat) and cracked corn. Feed a small amount of scratch late in the day to help chickens to stay warm throughout the night as egg laying chickens need more carbohydrates for warmth and egg production.

Monitor Water

With winter weather, frozen water is inevitable. Change the water twice per day, and change the water more often on colder days to prevent freezing. Check the water source in the evening for frozen water so the birds have water available for the full 24-hour time. Even automatic waterers can freeze if not heated or insulated. Check these waterers for leaks that can contribute to increased humidity problems in the coop. Heated water bowls or containers help to keep water from freezing; however, be cautious as these devices may malfunction and cause a fire.

Encourage Egg Production

A decline or stop in egg production is natural during the winter because chickens require 14 hours of daylight. By providing 12-14 hours of light, you will help increase egg production. To provide light for the chickens, use a 60-watt incandescent lightbulb or 13-watt compact fluorescent or comparable LED bulb that is hung at approximately 7 feet with a downward reflector. This method will provide enough light for a 200-square foot coop area. Lights may be left on continuously or turned off manually or automatically with a timer.
Collecting eggs once or twice a day will help prevent eggs from freezing. Most eggs are laid in the morning. Time egg collection with water management checks. Discard eggs that have frozen and have possibly cracked.

Avoid Frostbite

Injury from frostbite occurs most commonly on extremities such as feet, combs, and wattles. Frostbite causes the cells in this area to freeze, causing cell death and subsequent changes in color and texture. Gray, black, or brittle areas are indicators of frostbite.

To avoid frostbite, remove the snow from the chicken run or straw areas to protect their feet when outdoors. Inside the coop, make sure that all the chickens are able to roost off the floor at night. Roosting allows the chicken to lie on their feet to avoid standing all night. Provide at least 6-8 inches of roost space per chicken. Roosts should be 1½ to 3 inches in diameter.

If you notice frostbite on a chicken, there are some basic treatments to attempt. Bring the animal into a warm space, slowly warming the affected extremity back to correct temperature. Do not attempt rapid warming of the affected area as this may cause further damage. Gentle use of warm—not hot—water foot soaks to warm the feet may be beneficial, but do not attempt on the comb or wattle. Monitor the affected extremities carefully for infection and contact your veterinarian if you suspect infection. In some extreme cases of frostbite, the loss of the extremity can occur.

Heating the Coop

Supplemental heat may or may not be necessary in the coop. Chickens are hardy animals with the ability to withstand substantial cold temperatures if drafts and excess humidity are eliminated and they can find a warm, dry spot in the coop. Prepare the chickens by allowing them to acclimate to the cold naturally as winter approaches. This builds up their natural tolerance to cold.

Insulating the coop can be an effective way to maintain warm temperatures without the need for electricity. Make sure that insulation material is not accessible by the birds. If supplemental heating is required, make sure the electrical feed to the coop is sturdy, safe, and not accessible to the chickens. Take care when using space heaters, radiant heating, or heat lamps to avoid excess heat, carbon dioxide buildup, or a fire hazard situation. Cold tolerant chicken breeds acclimated to the weather living in an insulated, dry coop with adequate ventilation do not usually need supplemental heat.

Key Management Strategies

Key points for keeping your flock healthy are to increase the frequency of monitoring the coop as needed to address and prevent problems promptly. Monitor for spilled feed and water. Controlled ventilation and air circulation that prevents ammonia and moisture buildup while allowing the birds and the coop to maintain temperature is critical.


  1. Damerow. (2017). Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, 4th ed., North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.
  2. Damerow. (2002).Barnyard in your Backyard. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

Jacobs, J. (May 5, 2015). Frostbite in Chickens. Retrieved from:



The Benefits of Long-term No-till on Earthworm Activity and Rooting Depth

In long-term no-till, nightcrawlers are much more prevalent, thus leading to deeper root growth than in conventionally tilled soil.

Sjoerd Willem Duiker, Ph.D., CCA

Last week I went out to our long-term tillage plots to observe comparisons of 41 years of no-till, chisel-disk, and moldboard tillage. I was impressed by the difference in earthworm activity between plots of conventional tillage and long-term no-till. This year is our soybean year in a wheat-corn-soybean rotation (with either hairy vetch or crimson clover as a cover crop after wheat). The soybeans had just dropped their leaves. In the conventional tillage plot I noticed very few earthworm middens, however in the long-term no-till field I found many.

Pencil-sized nightcrawler burrows can be observed under the middens. (Credit: Sjoerd Duiker)

Very few nightcrawler middens were found in conventional tilled soil plots compared to long-term no-till soil plots. (Credit: Sjoerd Duiker)

Middens are the small mounds that anecic earthworms make on top of their deep, vertical burrows. These burrows can easily go as deep as 3 or 4 feet. Middens consist of crop residue pulled into the burrow by the earthworm (in this case mostly soybean leaves) and earthworm casts that the earthworms deposit at the soil surface. When you carefully remove the midden, you can see the pencil-size earthworm burrow underneath (see top photo).

These burrows are coated by organic substances. In our type of climate, these deep burrows are important pathways for root growth into the subsoil. In a study in Wisconsin, researchers observed that the average rooting depth of no-till corn was 49 inches, but that of tilled corn was 26 inches. The difference was attributed to the prolific nightcrawler activity in no-till: there were no nightcrawler burrows in the tilled fields, but on average 2.3 middens per square foot in the no-till fields – that is about 100,000 middens per acre. The average length of the burrows made by the nightcrawlers was 49 inches or more than 4 feet! In one study in Australia, researchers found that below a depth of 2 feet, almost all roots grew into pores and cracks. These deep roots are very important for facilitating water uptake in dry years.

Licking County rainfall totals for the 2019 growing season

Who would have believed that we would have ended the growing season with normal rainfall.  At the beginning of August we were well ahead of normal and then the rain shut off for much of the county.  On the up side the fall harvest is progressing at a very fast rate and is a long way ahead of last year complete.  On the down side the pastures are disappearing fast.  This is the first year I have ever had to start feeding hay by the middle of October but at least I was able to go 2 months without mowing the yard.  We are getting some rain now and hopefully soil moisture conditions will keep improving until time to plant again.

Rainfall – Licking County 2019

 Township April May June July August September Total
Alexandria 3.49 6.23 7.07 6.46 2.45 .69 26.39
Bennington 3.65 4.65 6.05 4.85 2.30 .90 22.40
Bowling Green 4.05   4.45 5.90 6.95 2.75 .10 24.19
Madison 3.18 3.52 7.48 6.51 2.08 .69 23.46
Newark 3.55 6.55 7.25 6.60 2.10 .40 26.45
Newton 3.00 4.80 6.95 8.50 2.05 .50 25.80
South Union 4.00 4.40 7.40 6.35 4.25 .40 26.80
Union 3.21 4.97 5.10 4.70 7.99 .66 26.63
Burlington 2.90 4.40 6.76 4.46 1.60 .50 20.62
Washington 3.50 4.10 5.25 4.35 .75 trace 17.95

County Avg 2019















Long term avg. 3.66 4.41 4.57 4.37 3.58 2.99 23.58


I would like to give a special thanks to the following individuals and families who graciously devoted their time and effort to keeping track and reporting their totals. Without their help this would not be possible. If you know someone who would like to participate in this project next year, please have them contact the extension office at 740-670-5315.

Rick Black                     Ed Hankinson           Dave Shipley

Larry Coe                      Kayla Hughes             Tom Sorg

Orville Felumlee         Jim Kiracofe

Marcy Williams          Jeff Martin

Meet our new office associate


Lisa House is the new Office Associate that will be providing front-line customer service support for the Licking County OSU Extension Office. Lisa comes to us from Columbus State Community College where she served in administrative support roles for over 10 years. She is a current member of the International Association of Administrative Professionals and received the Certified Administrative Professional designation in 2010. Lisa also holds a BS in Applied Management from Ohio University.

Lisa can be reached at or 740-670-5315.

How good or bad is your hay?

From Ted Wiseman and Dean Kreager Extension Educators in Perry and Licking County

You may be thinking enough already with the hay quality talk.  Many articles have been sent out on this topic starting before some people even baled their first cutting.  Last year a lot of the hay was very poor quality and many animals lost significant weight through the winter.  Some animals even died with hay in front of them because the hay did not have enough nutritional value.  Hay quality affects all types of livestock but I will concentrate on beef cows since they are less likely to receive supplemental feed than most other animals.

Thin cows are more likely to produce calves that are less healthy and will not grow as well.  Those cows often take longer to breed back which will carry into the next year with later born calves.  Below is a summary of 45  forage samples from hay made this year.  This data represents 2 important test numbers.  These 2 items do not tell the whole story when it comes to hay quality but they give us a good start.

Percent TDN (total digestible nutrients) is a measure of the amount of energy in the feed.  Basically this equates to the amount of calories.

Percent protein is a measure of the protein that is available to the animal for maintaining muscle and body systems. It is also very important for development of the calf she is carrying.

The vertical blue bars represent 1st cutting hay samples while the vertical orange bars represent 2nd cutting.  There are 4 silage samples included.

When looking at TDN on the graph, the grey bar at 60% represents the needs of a beef cow at the peak of lactation (such as fall calvers).  This bar could be lowered to 54% for last trimester spring calvers.  At 54% it would appear that some of the first cutting would be adequate; however, when we factor in the moisture content and the limitation on the total pounds  a cow can possibly consume none of these first cutting samples completely met the energy needs of the cattle.  If you add in the increased energy needs from rain, mud, cold, and snow, the animals will be loosing body condition through the winter if they are not receiving an energy supplement.

Protein content is represented by the yellow bar on the graph.  Typically you will want at least an 8%-9% protein level to meet the needs of a cow in its 3rd trimester.  You can see that some of the first cutting samples are closer to 5%.  The protein needs are met by more samples than the energy needs but still may require some protein supplementation.

First cutting forages provides the largest amount of your supply compared to second, third or fourth.  Taking inventory of what you have now for each cutting will give you time to plan your winter feeding program.  Most importantly if you haven’t tested your forages before, this would be the year to do so.  The cost of a forage sample is minimal compared the costs associated with lower body condition scores, low birth weights and poor milk production.  I am glad to help with sampling and interpretation.  We can have your hay tested for $25 including shipping for most standard testing.

Once you know what quality of forages you have, work with a nutritionist to help decide what other feed stuffs you can use to develop a proper beef ration.  Just getting the numbers on a spreadsheet or computer program is only the starting point.  Understanding the complexities of the ruminant digestive system and knowing what the limitations of certain feeds is critical.  The Ohio State Beef Team website has some great resources addressing feed and feed shortage issues.

Be Alert to Late-Season Potential Forage Toxicities

Author: Mark Sulc

Livestock owners feeding forage need to keep in mind the potential for some forage toxicities and other problems that can develop late this season. Nitrate and prussic acid poisoning associated with drought stress or frost are the main potential concerns to be aware of. These are primarily an issue with annual forages and several weed species, but nitrates can be an issue even in drought stressed perennial forages. There is also an increased risk of bloat when grazing legumes after a frost. Each of these risks is discussed in this article along with precautions to avoid them.

Nitrate Toxicity

Drought stressed forages can accumulate toxic nitrate levels. This can occur in many different forage species, including both annuals and perennials. Several areas in Ohio have become very dry late this summer into fall. Corn, oat and other small grains, sudangrass, and sorghum sudangrass, and many weed species including johnson grass can accumulate toxic levels of nitrates. Even alfalfa can accumulate toxic nitrate levels under severe drought stress.

Before feeding or grazing severely drought stressed forage, the forage should be analyzed for nitrates. Most labs now offer nitrate tests, so it is likely that you can get forage plants tested for nitrates by your favorite lab.  A number of labs are listed at the end of this article that have nitrate testing available. This list is for your convenience and no labs are intentionally omitted. Check your chosen lab’s web site and follow their specific instructions about how to take and handle the sample.Tthe cost is well worth it against the risk of losing animals.

See the following references for more details:

Nitrate accumulation in frost forages. Freezing damage slows down metabolism in all plants, and this might result in nitrate accumulation in plants that are still growing, especially grasses like oats and other small grains, millet, and sudangrass.  This build-up usually isn’t hazardous to grazing animals, but greenchop or hay cut right after a freeze can be more dangerous. When in doubt, send a forage sample to a forage testing lab for nitrate testing before grazing or feeding it.

Prussic Acid Toxicity

Several forage and weed species contain compounds called cyanogenic glucosides that are converted quickly to prussic acid (i.e. hydrogen cyanide) in freeze-damaged plant tissues, or under drought conditions. Several labs provide prussic acid testing of forages. Sampling and shipping guidelines should be carefully followed because prussic acid is a gas and can dissipate during shipping leading to a false sense of security when no prussic acid is found in the sample.

Drought stress can affect prussic acid poisoning risk. Drought-stunted plants can contain or produce prussic acid and can possess toxic levels at maturity. Prussic acid poisoning can be associated with new regrowth following a drought-ending rain, which is likely the case in some parts of Ohio now. Rain after drought plus young stages of plant maturity (see below) could combine to cause toxic levels of prussic acid in forage this year.

Plant age affects toxicity. Young, rapidly growing plants of species that contain cyanogenic glucosides will have the highest levels of prussic acid. Pure stands of indiangrass can have lethal levels of cyanide if they are grazed when the plants are less than 8 inches tall.

Species with prussic acid poisoning potential. Forage species that can contain prussic acid are listed below in decreasing order of risk of toxicity:

  • Grain sorghum = high to very high toxic potential
  • Indiangrass = high toxic potential
  • Sorghum-sudangrass hybrids and forage sorghums = intermediate to high potential
  • Sudangrass hybrids = intermediate potential
  • Sudangrass varieties = low to intermediate in cyanide poisoning potential
  • Piper sudangrass = low prussic acid poisoning potential
  • Pearl millet and foxtail millet = rarely cause toxicity

Species not usually planted for agronomic use can also develop toxic levels of prussic acid, including the following:

  • Johnsongrass
  • Shattercane
  • Chokecherry
  • Black cherry
  • Elderberry

It is always a good idea to check areas where wild cherry trees grow after a storm and pick up and discard any fallen limbs to prevent animals from grazing on the leaves and twigs.

Frost affects toxicity. Cyanogenic glucosides are converted quickly to prussic acid (i.e. hydrogen cyanide) in freeze-damaged plant tissues. Prussic acid poisoning potential is most commonly associated the first autumn frost. New growth from frosted plants is palatable but can be dangerously high in prussic acid.

Fertility can affect poisoning risk. Plants growing under high nitrogen levels or in soils deficient in phosphorus or potassium will be more likely to have high prussic acid poisoning potential.

Fresh forage is more risky. After frost damage, cyanide levels will likely be higher in fresh forage as compared with silage or hay. This is because cyanide is a gas and dissipates as the forage is wilted and dried for making silage or dry hay.

Prussic Acid Toxicity Symptoms

Animals can die within minutes if they consume forage with high concentrations of prussic acid. Prussic acid interferes with oxygen transfer in the blood stream of the animal, causing it to die of asphyxiation. Before death, symptoms include excess salivation, difficult breathing, staggering, convulsions, and collapse.

Ruminants are more susceptible to prussic acid poisoning than horses or swine because cud chewing and rumen bacteria help release the cyanide from plant tissue.

According to a Texas Cooperative Extension Factsheet, “Animals consuming forages with nigh nitrate levels cannot complete the conversion of nitrate to protein, and toxic nitrite levels accumulate. Nitrite is adsorbed directly into the bloodstream through the rumen wall, where it combines with hemoglobin to form methhemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries oxygen in the blood, but methhemoglobin does not. The formation of methhemoglobin can cause an animal to die from asphyxiation, or lack of oxygen. The animal’s blood turns brown instead of the normal bright red. Monogastrics (i.e., hors-es, mules, swine, etc.) are less sensitive to nitrate toxicitythan ruminants. An animal’s conditioning affects its ability to assimilate or tolerate nitrates, so consult your veterinarian before feeding forage that contains nitrates.”

Grazing Precautions

The following guidelines will help you avoid danger to your livestock this fall when feeding species with nitrates or prussic acid poisoning potential:

  • Under drought conditions, allow animals to graze only the upper one-third to one-half of the plant or the leaves of coarse-stemmed forages if the nitrate levels in these plant parts is safe. Monitor animals closely and remove them quickly when the upper portion of plants is grazed off.
  • Generally, forage nitrate levels drop significantly 3 to 5 days after sufficient rainfall, but it is always safer to send in a sample for testing before grazing or feeding forage soon after drought stress periods.
  • Making hay does not reduce nitrate levels in the forage, but the hay can be tested and diluted sufficiently with other feeds to make it safe for animals.
  • Ensiling forage converts nitrates to volatile nitrous oxides, or “silo gases”. These gases are highly toxic to humans. Safety practices include removing tarps from a portion of the silo a day or two before removing the silage from the bunker.
  • Do not graze on nights when frost is likely. High levels of toxic prussic acid are produced within hours after a frost, even if it was a light frost.
  • Do not graze after a killing frost until plants are dry, which usually takes 5 to 7 days.
  • After a non-killing frost, do not allow animals to graze for two weeks because the plants usually contain high concentrations of prussic acid.
  • New growth may appear at the base of the plant after a non-killing frost. If this occurs, wait for a killing freeze, then wait another 10 to 14 days before grazing the new growth.
  • Don’t allow hungry or stressed animals to graze young growth of species with prussic acid potential. To reduce the risk, feed ground cereal grains to animals before turning them out to graze.
  • Use heavy stocking rates (4-6 head of cattle/acre) and rotational grazing to reduce the risk of animals selectively grazing leaves that can contain high levels of prussic acid.
  • Never graze immature growth or short regrowth following a harvest or grazing (at any time of the year). Graze or greenchop sudangrass only after it is 15 to 18 inches tall. Sorghum-sudangrass should be 24 to 30 inches tall before grazing.
  • Do not graze wilted plants or plants with young tillers.


Green-chopping will not reduce the level of nitrates and is not likely to greatly reduce the level of prussic acid present. However, green-chopping frost-damaged plants will lower the risk compared with grazing directly, because animals are less likely to selectively graze damaged tissue. Stems in the forage dilute the high prussic acid content that can occur in leaves. However, the forage can still be toxic, so feed greenchop with great caution after a frost. If feeding greenchopped forage of species containing cyanogenic glucosides, feed it within a few hours of greenchopping, and don’t leave greenchopped forage in wagons or feedbunks overnight.

Hay and Silage

Prussic acid content in the plant decreases dramatically during the hay drying process and the forage should be safe once baled as dry hay. The forage can be mowed anytime after a frost if you are making hay. It is rare for dry hay to contain toxic levels of prussic acid. However, if the hay was not properly cured and dried before baling, it should be tested for prussic acid content before feeding to livestock.

Forage with prussic acid potential that is stored as silage is generally safe to feed. To be extra cautious, wait 5 to 7 days after a frost before chopping for silage. If the plants appear to be drying down quickly after a killing frost, it is safe to ensile sooner.

Delay feeding silage for 8 weeks after ensiling. If the forage likely contained high levels of cyanide at the time of chopping, hazardous levels of cyanide might remain and the silage should be analyzed before feeding.

Species That Can Cause Bloat After Frost

Forage legumes such as alfalfa and clovers have an increased risk of bloat when grazed one or two days after a hard frost. The bloat risk is highest when grazing pure legume stands and least when grazing stands having mostly grass.

The safest management is to wait a few days after a killing frost before grazing pure legume stands – wait until the forage begins to dry from the frost damage. It is also a good idea to make sure animals have some dry hay before being introduced to lush fall pastures that contain significant amounts of legumes. You can also swath your legume-rich pasture ahead of grazing and let animals graze dry hay in the swath.  Bloat protectants like poloxalene can be fed as blocks or mixed with grain. While this an expensive supplement, it does work well when animals eat a uniform amount each day.

Frost and Equine Toxicity Problems

(source: Bruce Anderson, University of Nebraska)

Minnesota specialists report that fall pasture, especially frost damaged pasture, can have high concentrations of nonstructural carbohydrates, like sugars.  This can lead to various health problems for horses, such as founder and colic.  They recommend pulling horses off of pasture for about one week following the first killing frost.

High concentrations of nonstructural carbohydrates are most likely in leafy regrowth of cool-season grasses such as brome, timothy, and bluegrass but native warm-season grasses also may occasionally have similar risks.

Another unexpected risk can come from dead maple leaves that fall or are blown into horse pastures.  Red blood cells can be damaged in horses that eat 1.5 to 3 pounds of dried maple leaves per one thousand pounds of bodyweight.  This problem apparently does not occur with fresh green leaves or with any other animal type.  Fortunately, the toxicity does not appear to remain in the leaves the following spring.

Where to Test Forages for Nitrates

Brookside Laboratories, Inc.
New Bremen, Ohio

Cumberland Valley Analytical Services
Waynesboro, PA

Dairyland Labs
Wisconsin & Minnesota

Dairy One
Ithaca, NY

Holmes Lab
Millersburg, Ohio
330-893-2933 or 330-893-1326

Rock River Lab
Wooster, OH

Spectrum Analytic
Washington Court House, Ohio

Indianapolis, Indiana