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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Healthy Animals Newsletter

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Issue 26, July 2006
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Food for Thought: Forage


You are what you eat.

True for animals as well as people, a nutritious diet promotes a healthy body. In an experimental pasture at the Grazinglands Research Laboratory near El Reno, Oklahoma, ecologist Brian Northup collects samples to describe availability and quality of forage. That's why ARS scientists at laboratories throughout the United States are cooperating to improve the nation's forage.

Forage—the edible plant material from non-grain crops that provide feed for animals—comprises about 60 percent of the diet for U.S. livestock. Forage crops are a significant part of the nation's agricultural economy, supporting the nation's multibillion dollar livestock industry.

Through ARS's Rangeland, Pastures, and Forages National Program research, scientists have discovered how to sustain and improve U.S. forage, providing a sustainable, healthy, abundant food source for the nation's animals.

Rangeland, pasture, and forages cover about 55 percent of all U.S. land. Forage grows differently in different areas, so it's important for farmers and ranchers to know which types and techniques work best for their region.

To Each, Its Own

In Beaver, W. Va., scientists at the Appalachian Farming Systems Research Center raised lambs on tall fescue and orchard grass grown on silvopastures where forage and trees are grown together. A 180° image over a silvopasture photographed with a hemispheric lens.They found that the moderate shade cast by oaks and conifers promoted distinct herbage nutrient profiles, including higher protein levels. Silvopastures increased grazing opportunities and may also extend the length of the growing season. This information could help Appalachian farmers maximize the potential of their pastures.

Plants like locoweed, lupine, and larkspur can be deadly to grazing animals. What are the symptoms of poisoning? How can poisonous plants be recognized and managed? How serious is the threat? At the Poisonous Plant Research Laboratory in Logan, Utah, scientists address these questions by investigating the toxins that cause illness and death and developing tactics to protect animals from them. Their research has helped establish management practices to reduce plant-related losses.

Researchers in the Forage-Animal Production Research Unit at Lexington, Ky., are also investigating the effects of toxic endophyte-infected tall fescue on grazing animals. Tall fescue, a popular forage choice in the eastern United States, can cause toxicosis in cattle, which can harm reproductive and growth performance and may even be fatal if the animals are subjected to stressful situations, such as transport or extensive handling.

Recent research suggests that a 2-week, fescue-free diet following removal from pasture can improve the stress tolerance of afflicted cattle, reducing transport-stress mortality and morbidity rates and related economic losses.

A Time for Everything

Forage availability is seasonal. Several ARS research projects are examining how to improve feed options during seasons when forage availability declines. Scientists with the Forage and Range Research Laboratory at Logan are investigating the benefits of taller forage kochia (KO-chuh), a winter-hardy plant that provides protein to grazing cattle, sheep, deer, elk and antelope. Utah rancher Bob Adams (left) and ARS scientist Blair Waldron discuss the nutritional quality of forage kochia. Eurasian specimens grow taller than the kochia currently sold in the United States and could provide nutritious, low-cost food during the snowy season.

With similar objectives, researchers at the Grazinglands Research Laboratory in El Reno, Okla., are investigating the possibility of growing perennial cool-season grasses in the southern Great Plains to provide much-needed forage during spring and autumn, when traditional warm- and cool-season grasses are in short supply.

What can we predict about the future of forage? Another El Reno project may soon help livestock producers evaluate the quality of live forage within a pasture. Scientists there are cooperating with two private firms to develop, manufacture, and market an economic, hand-held optical remote sensor to calculate and store data on forage's nutritional value. This device could enable producers to more easily make informed decisions about the dietary needs of their animals.

More to Come

These projects only hint at the variety and breadth of the ARS Rangeland, Pasture and Forages National Program, which comprises over 50 projects in 30 laboratories in 24 states. Thanks to this research program, the United States can count on a nutritious, varied, sustainable feed source for its agricultural animals.

For more information about ARS's Rangeland, Pastures, and Forages National Program, contact Evert K. Byington.




A newborn calf lies near its mother

Research Briefs

All in the timing. New research on the economic impact of calving times can help ranchers make decisions about breeding and forage use.

Engage a phage. Innovative methods to collect and identify Salmonella-specific bacteriophages could help control the bacteria in swine waste lagoons.

Chill out. Relaxed cattle management promotes calmer, healthier herds.

Protein spells relief? A novel antimicrobial protein could help protect cows against mastitis.

Talking turkey. An extremely sensitive new diagnostic test detects viruses associated with poult enteritis complex, a potentially fatal turkey disease.

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's…a vaccination? Scientists investigate the possibility of protecting bison and other animals from brucellosis by firing vaccine-filled projectiles at them.

Ticked off: Two new tools help protect the southern U.S. from disease-carrying cattle ticks.

Emissions reducible: Supplementing poultry and swine feed with phytase enzymes could improve nutrition and reduce potentially polluting phosphorus emissions.

Dynamic duo. Adding the catalyst Fe-TAML to hydrogen peroxide may help neutralize hormones in wastewater, potentially reducing pollution that harms fish and other wildlife.


Healthy trout swim over rocks.


Awards


For developing modified live vaccines to counter two economically significant catfish diseases, ARS researchersCraig Shoemaker, Joyce Evans, and Phillip Klesius of the Aquatic Animal Health Research Unit in Auburn, Ala., received a Federal Laboratory Consortium Award for Excellence in Technology. The Federal Laboratory Consortium Award recognizes laboratory scientists who successfully bring federally developed technology to the market. Earlier this year, this team received an ARS Technology Transfer Award for the same research.

Biochemist Stanley Prusiner received the 2006 ARS Sterling B. Hendricks Mermorial Lectureship, which recognizes scientists who have made outstanding contributions to the chemical science of agriculture. The award includes a $2,000 honorarium, a medallion, and expenses to attend the American Chemical Society Fall Meeting in September 2006, where the lecture will be presented. Prusiner received the 1997 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering and defining prions, the disease-causing agents behind transmissible spongiform encephalopathies like scrapie and mad cow disease.

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Last Modified: 2/6/2007