A Word of Caution Against Camelids on Turf
Fungal endophytes were discovered in tall fescue and perennial ryegrass
during mid 1980's. Since that time, we have learned of their potential
to produce alkaloids harmful to livestock. The symptoms are usually not
life-threatening, but can include abortion. We have also learned of
potential benefits these alkaloids have in increasing plant insect
resistance, summer hardiness, and overall yield. These differences have
polarized the turf and forage seed industries.
The turf industry has a mixed position on endophyte, with some
companies favoring high endophyte levels and some not making any
specific claims regarding endophyte levels. Irrespective of these
positions, most turf seed is sold with endophyte-infection levels up to
100%. There are few disadvantages of endophyte in turf, and many
advantages with high endophyte levels.
The forage seed industry has adopted a standard of
endophyte-free seed. This minimizes the possibility that livestock can
become exposed to toxic endophyte alkaloids. Endophyte-free and
endophyte-infected ryegrass and tall fescue appear identical and can
only be distinguished by a laboratory test. There is some possibility
that endophyte-free pastures can become re-invaded by endophyte-infected
plants, and many growers prefer to exclude tall fescue and perennial
ryegrass from their seed mixtures (all clovers, orchardgrass and
Kentucky bluegrass are endophyte-free). Fescue and ryegrass are great
forage species, however, and there is merit to retain them as pasture
species. When establishing pastures using these species (or purchasing
hay containing these species) ensure you use only forage seed that comes
from a reputable seed dealer and that it comes with an endophyte test.
It is also a good idea to learn to identify these species in pasture,
and have an endophyte test every 2-3 years.
There are 4 rules for grazing camelids on tall fescue and ryegrass turf:
1) Don't mix forage and turf seed for pasture intended for
2) Don't graze livestock on the turf around your house or farm
3) Don't feed hay from turf (beside farm buildings, roadsides, or
4) Don't carry turf to livestock (e.g. in pens at shows) - unless
it, i) is from safe (tested) pasture, or ii) is turf from an
endophyte-free species such as Kentucky bluegrass
23 December 2003
Dr David Barker
Horticulture and Crop Sci., Ohio State University
What is Intensive grazing and
how do you do it?
Daniel Linden, BS
Camelid Nutrition Graduate Student
Ohio State University
Management Intensive Grazing (MIG) is a wonderful concept. It was used
in the 1950's to some success and has been used in New Zealand with very
good success. The concept is that by intensifying the manual labor of a
grazing system one can increase the animal stocking density by 20-30%. And
reduce cost by allowing animals to harvest their own forage instead of the
farmer harvesting the forage for them.
MIG involves rotating animals through a series of paddocks that have
optimal growth of forage in each pasture as the animals enter. This
generally uses 8-9 inch tall grass that is in the growth stages and NOT in
the flowering or bud stages. Once a plant has gone to flower it is too
mature and way too fibrous for good nutrition. The animals are allowed to
graze the plants down to 2-3 inches and are then moved to the next pasture.
Some systems allow crias or tuis (weanlings) to graze the new pasture first
like a creep grazing.
The key to MIG is to have proper sized pastures that allow the grasses
to regrow before the animals are put back in this pasture. This requires 3-4
weeks depending on the season. This also reduces some of the parasite burden
because it removes the animals from pastures with new feces that will
contain parasite eggs. It doesn't remove the problems totally, but may
reduce the problem.
The number of paddocks and the size depends on many things:
How often you are going to move them? Sheep and cattle are moved
every 3-7 days. Dairy cattle 2 times / day.
How fast does you forage grow? Summer slump will slow down growth and reduce the speed that you can rotate them.
Do you have rapidly maturing plants that go to seed before you can rotate the animals? If so you need to mow the grass to keep it young enough for the animals to digest. Excess in spring and fall can actually be mowed and made into hay since there is so much of it.
Each paddock size will be determined by the lay of the land. Try to make
each pasture a 1:1 or 1:2 size ration. A pasture that is 100 ft x 300 ft will not get good grazing in the back because the animals won't want to walk that far. Also every paddock needs to have a water source that is easily accessible. Animals graze closer to water sources. If they walk a long distance to grass and water they won't utilize the pasture well.
As far as what plants to use this is a sticky situation. This depends on
your soil conditions. Legumes are essential. Clovers and alfalfa are
commonly used, but clovers do better in wet soil than alfalfa. Also keep the
% legume below 25%. High legumes can cause bloat and weight problems.
Grasses are easier. Timothy is up to you. I don't care for it because it is
pain to establish and keep alive. I know some people that won't have
pasture or hay without it. That is up to you. Orchard grass is great, if you
get a new slower maturing variety. Kentucky bluegrass is hardy and just
keeps coming back. Some people recommend fescues and rye grasses, but I do not. There are too many problems with these types of grasses that I feel it
is better to be safe than sorry. Brome grass is nice for lots of growth.
Avoid the Sudan grass crosses. They can produce prussic acid that is harmful.
David E Anderson, DVM, MS
The Ohio State University
Forages for Use in Camelid Pastures
By: Daniel Linden
An understanding of the basics of pasture types, grass types, and
even to the various types of pasture systems that can be used is critical
to optimizing farm land that is in use for llamas and alpacas.
Llamas and alpacas are members
of the tylopoda suborder in the
camel family in a group of animals that are known as ruminating
non-ruminants or pseudoruminants. They do not have the same number of
stomach compartments as the bovine and ovine families. They only have 3 of
the 4 stomach compartments that are present in other ruminant species.
Because of this and other differences, we will refer to the separate
chambers of the stomach as the C1, C2, and C3 instead of the rumen,
reticulum, omasum, and the abomasum. This distinction is only made because
this helps to explain some of the differences in digestion between camelids
and cattle and sheep.
Camelids in South America have
adapted well to the arid,
mountainous regions of the Altiplano in which they originated. They have
evolved separate stomach compartments to aid in the digestion of plant
cellulose, the indigestible fiber in the stems of plants. The first stomach
compartment, the C1, is a fermentation vat that holds the plant material
that is ingested while specialized microbes that live in the C1digest the
plant material. The plant material is broken down into constituents that
the animal would otherwise be unable to use. This symbiotic relationship
between the animal and the microbes is what has allowed the camelids to
survive in a harsh environment with poor quality forages. The first chamber
is the one that must be looked at when you consider forage strategies for
llamas and alpacas. It is this chamber that will turn the grasses and
plants into usable components and energy for the camelid.
As plants mature they gain more and more connective tissue in the plant
walls. This can take the form of pectin between the cell walls, which is
well digested, or more commonly, as lignin, cellulose, or hemicellulose,
which are fibers in the cell wall matrix that are not well digested. More
mature plants have a larger amount of lignin-hemicellulose interconnections
that make for an increase in the difficulty for the animal in digesting
these plants. Younger plants have not developed as many of these
interactions and are therefore more digestible, but are also smaller and
contain less plant material for the animal to eat. The farm manger must
find a happy medium between plant maturity and the amount of tonnage that
is to be harvested.
The type of forage that is in use is definitely a critical component for
maintaining pasture health. Options include grasses, legumes, a mixture of
each, or a mixture of both? Each forage type has its own pros and cons and
should be selected to get the most out of the land and environment.
Grasses are plants whose stems and leaves are made up of the same structure.
They are generally moderate in protein and energy, but have high yields and
are tolerant to a range of adverse weather conditions. An example would be
crabgrass or fescue.
Legumes are plants that have
leaves growing out from a central
stem. Legumes contain rhizomes on their roots that can take nitrogen from
the atmosphere and convert it to nitrogen that can be used by the plant for
fertilizer. This gives more plant growth and less of a need to fertilize.
Legumes generally have higher protein levels, but yield less tonnage per
acre than grasses.
The type of pasture system that is used is a major consideration for each
farm and is unique for everyone depending on their personal situation. It
must be remembered that each farm is different and there is no cookie
cutter approach that will work for everyone.
The simplest type of pasture system is the homogenous grass or homogenous
legume system. This system uses only one type of forage for the entire
pasture. An advantage to this system is that it is easy to determine
fertilizer rates, yields, and time of harvest. Since there is only one
species of forage, harvesting is done when the majority of the plants are
at their optimum stage of maturity. The drawback to this system is that
with only one plant species present there is a higher susceptibility of all
plants being affected by the same thing, whether it is a disease, pests, or
adverse weather conditions. It is also more difficult to adjust for forage
growth slumps due to extreme cold or hot periods. An example of this would
be a pasture that is all Orchard grass.
An alternative system is to use a mix of either all grasses or all legumes.
A mixture of forage species takes the best attributes of each type and
combines it together. This gives a mix that will hopefully have a
consistent growth regardless of the weather. This also makes it harder for
one thing such as a disease or pest to wipe out the entire crop. One of the
disadvantages is that it is harder to synchronize the harvest times and the
rate of fertilizer application. An example would be a pasture that is 50%
Orchard grass and 50% Kentucky bluegrass.
Perhaps the best system is to use a mix of grasses and legumes. This gives
the nitrogen fixing and higher protein levels from the legumes with the
mass tonnage and the hardiness of the grasses. The drawback to this system
is the added difficulty of timing harvest and computing fertilizer rates
for multiple species. The added hardiness of the grasses removes some of
the problems with winter and summer slump from poor weather conditions and is the main advantage.
The next topic that needs to be discussed is the forage species that is to
be used. Three commonly used legumes are alfalfa, clover, and a newer
variety, Birdsfoot trefoil. These are all nitrogen fixing legumes that have
the advantage of higher protein levels than those that are found in most of
the grasses. The drawback to legumes is that they are somewhat harder to
establish than many of the grasses and not as tolerant of adverse weather
Alfalfa is one of the most popular legumes. However, alfalfa is not very
tolerant of wetness or poorly drained soils. It also does not perform well
in acidic soils. If the soils in your area have poor drainage and/or are
acidic, you may want to consider an alternative. Alfalfa is a plant that is
not tolerant of frequent close grazing. Most animals will selectively graze
the legumes before moving on to their next favorite forage. In the end,
this leaves unpalatable plants which may then have a chance to out compete
or choke out the legumes. This means that alfalfa will not work well in an
extensive grazing system that allows the animals time to selectively graze
only a few species. In an intensive system where the animals are unable to
selectively graze, alfalfa may work nicely.
Clover is more tolerant of wet, poorly drained soils and acidic soils than
alfalfa, but can not stand up to the intense, dry summers of some areas.
There are a variety of clover types, including red, white, and jumbo white
clover. The jumbo varieties of white clover have a higher amount of forage
growth, but are less hardy than the smaller varieties. Red clover, like
alfalfa, may cause bloat in some animals. The white clover varieties seem
less likely to cause bloat in animals. Clovers are able to be grazed
frequently as long enough plant material remains to allow the plant to
recover sufficiently before the next grazing. Clovers perform well in both
intensive and extensive grazing systems when managed properly.
Birdsfoot trefoil, a relative newcomer to the grazing community, is a
well-rounded legume for pastures. It performs well in dry weather, and in wet and acidic soils. While Birdsfoot trefoil performs well in intensive grazing systems, it cannot handle frequent close grazing or selective grazing like that in the extensive grazing systems. Birdsfoot trefoil is also high in tannins, which are chemicals in the leaves that may act as a factor in internal parasite control. Thus lowering the frequency necessary for chemical treatments. Research is still being performed to determine the affects.
The next set of plants that needs to be looked at is the grass category.
The four that are the most commonly used in this area are Kentucky
bluegrass, Orchard grass, tall fescue, and timothy.
Kentucky bluegrass is a dense sod grass that performs well somewhat wet
soils. It performs fairly well in acidic soils, but excels in frequent
grazing systems. It is one of the most forgiving grasses and is pretty long
lived. This makes it easier on the farm manager since it does not have to
be reseeded every few years.
Orchard grass is not very tolerant in acidic or wet soils, but in an
intensive grazing system that allows for infrequent close grazing it
performs very well. Orchard grass is one of the most productive grasses in
the Midwest. The drawback to orchard grass is that it matures rapidly. This
makes the fiber more interconnected and less digestible. A few of the newer
varieties have a slower maturation which allows it to be used as a staple
grass along with others in a grazing system. These newer varieties need to
be a serious consideration for any farm that utilizes a rotation time that
is frequent enough that the plants are unable to reach a mature size.
Tall fescue is very tolerant of acidic soils, wet soils, and even tolerant
of dry conditions. It is one of the most commonly used plants for summer
grazing when most other plants are going semi dormant. The palatability is
lower than many other plants, but since it is one of the few plants to be
active in the summer it is still useful. It works especially well in an
intensive system that allows for regrowth between grazings. Tall fescue is a matter of some debate between grazers. It is known for its habit of causing fescue toxicosis, a disorder that may be harmful to animals. This toxicosis is caused by an alkaloid produced by an endophyte fungus that infests some varieties of fescue. Fescue toxicosis can cause placental thickening, elevated body temperatures, the feet to slough off of cattle and may cause abortions in horses. It also causes agalactia, which is a drop in milk production in lactating females. Camelids seem to be more resistant to toxicosis than cattle and horses, but may still be susceptible to problems. The endophyte has been bred out of some of the newer varieties and an endophyte-free variety has been developed. This variety is not as hardy as the endophyte infected varieties and over time the infected form seeds may infect the endophyte-free pastures and out compete it resulting in an endophyte reinfection over time. A tall fescue variety has recently been developed in New Zealand that contains an endophyte variety that does not produce the harmful alkaloids. The seed is sold in the United States under the name Max-Q. It is more tolerant of adverse weather than the endophyte-free variety, though less tolerant than the infected variety, and does not cause the toxicosis in animals.
Timothy is a cool season grass that has a shallow root system. This makes
it a poor choice for areas that have frequent dry spells. It is hindered by
wet soils and grows poorly when frequently grazed. Timothy is mostly used
in making hay, but can also be used in intensive grazing systems. The best
system for timothy use would be an intensively grazed pasture system that
makes hay with the spring excess.
Now that we have looked at the differences between types of forages,
species of forages, the methods of harvesting, and different systems for
grazing, we can decide what ways that we can use to best utilize our
personal pastures. This will improve and optimize all of our pastures for
the betterment of all the alpacas and llamas in our care.
David E Anderson, DVM, MS
College of Veterinary Medicine
The Ohio State University
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