A safe product for grazing alfalfa

An effective prevention for frothy bloat is back on the market. Alfasure was pulled over a licensing issue (whether to be classed as a feed additive or a drug), but requirements were met and it has been relicensed as of June 2012.

In the past, producers have understandably been reluctant to plant and graze alfalfa because of the losses encountered with frothy bloat. Mortality on grazing alfalfa can get as high as 10 per cent and this can be reduced to almost zero with this product. Trials done in Alberta have confirmed this where controls had an almost 40 per cent incidence of bloat and medicated cattle with this product were at zero.

This product is administered through the drinking water so we can be confident all classes of cattle will consume it, including young calves on a daily basis. Producers must ensure no other water source is available, including streams or sloughs or dugouts. This may require some fencing to eliminate these water sources, but this adds the environmental bonus of preserving the riparian areas.

Alfasure acts as an anti-foaming agent and when administered at a dosage of six to 20 ml (depending on weight and the risk of bloat) again is almost 100 per cent effective. Alfasure can even be used as a bloat treatment by giving 30 ml in 200 ml water so it can be used as a substitute to any bloat medications currently on the market.

To be cautious it is best to start the cattle on it for 48 hours before introducing to a risky situation. Continue medicating as long as the risk of bloat is present. The medication has a dye in it so producers can tell if adequate mixing has occurred in the tank or watering bowl. Once mixed in water it always stays in suspension.

Mixing techniques

Several methods of mixing have been tried. Large watering tanks can be mixed as they are filled. There are good charts out there to predict water consumption so amounts can be easily calculated. One can use a good rule of thumb of water consumption being roughly 10 per cent of body weight daily. Therefore a 1,000-lb. animal will consume about 100 lbs. or 10 gallons (water weighs close to 10 lbs. a gallon). Keep in mind summer will see consumption slightly higher and conversely winter slightly lower than this but in our country Alfasure will primarily be used on grazing animals.

Other watering systems, which are easiest to adapt, are large tanker trucks producers fill and move to different locations. The whole tank can be mixed and then gravity fed into the watering tanks or bowls. Many producers use solar-powered pumps, wind pumps or nose pumps to water cattle from dugouts and other water bodies. Several models are available which accurately dispense the Alfasure directly into the waterline. Most of these are based on a venturi effect whereby for every gallon or litre that flows, so much product is dispensed. If an economical, simple system could be developed this would marry up well with the current pumps now on the market.

Calculating the dose

Based on reliability and the extra gains realized with grazing alfalfa, Alfasure should gain wide acceptance. Veterinarians will have to fine tune water consumption based on ambient temperature, taking into account the feed source.

For example, after a good rain on lush alfalfa, bloat risk is highest and yet water consumption may be low since lots of moisture is being derived from the feed source so dosage will need to be increased slightly.

Over the years several avenues have focused on reducing bloat. Some have concentrated on varieties with a lower bloat incidence, but with that came lower production. Other species of legumes such as sanfoin are very low risk for bloat but again production or hardiness is limited.

Ionophores such as rumensin will help to reduce bloat, which is why a bolus containing rumensin was developed. It dispenses a set amount of rumensin daily over a 90-day feeding period. It has been found to be about 80 per cent effective in preventing bloat.

The advantage is that if other sources of water are available to cattle it may have been the right choice to use. The disadvantage is the labour necessary to give them plus you’re committed to the whole treatment period. Effectiveness is 80 per cent so some deaths still occur. With Alfasure essentially eliminating bloat it’s like an almost for-sure insurance policy.

I’m convinced it may revolutionize the way cattle are pastured in Western Canada. By using high-yielding varieties of alfalfa and rotational grazing we can substantially increase stocking densities of our pastures plus realizing tremendous weight gains. We will better be able to graze second or third cuts of alfalfa, which are not worthy of harvesting. If you want to pasture alfalfa this summer (summer of 2012) definitely give this product a look. Try some for the treatment of bloat before deciding for yourself. As I said, it was on the market four to five years ago and has been caught in licensing issues since. Sadly, animals have probably needlessly died of bloat because it was not available or cattle were held off grazing lush pastures where gains could be phenomenal.

About the author

Columnist

Roy Lewis practised large-animal veterinary medicine for more than 30 years and now works part time as a technical services veterinarian for Merck Animal Health.

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