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Grazing of spotted locoweed (Astragalus lentiginosus) by cattle and horses in Arizona

Pfister, J.A., Stegelmeier, B.L., Gardner, D.R., James, L.F.
Journal of animal science 2003 v.81 no.9 pp. 2285
Astragalus lentiginosus, cattle, horses, perennial weeds, cows, calves, woodlands, grazing, plant density, swainsonine, toxins, blood serum, animal behavior, Arizona
Spotted locoweed (Astragalus lentiginosus var. diphysus) is a toxic, perennial plant that may, if sufficient precipitation occurs, dominate the herbaceous vegetation of pinyon-juniper woodlands on the Colorado Plateau. Six cow/calf pairs and four horses grazed a 20-ha pasture with dense patches of locoweed in eastern Arizona during spring 1998. Locoweed density was 0.7 plants/m2 in the pasture. Locoweed averaged 30.4% NDF and 18.4% CP. Concentrations of the locoweed toxin, swainsonine, fluctuated from 1.25 to 2 mg/g in locoweed. Horses ate more (P < 0.01) bites of locoweed than did cows (15.4 and 5.1% of bites, respectively). Horses generally increased locoweed consumption over time since they ate approximately 5% of bites in the preflower stage compared with 25% of bites in the pod stage. Cattle consumed almost no locoweed (<1% of bites) until the pod stage, when they increased consumption to 15% of bites. Horses were very avid (approximately 65 to 95% of bites) in selecting the small quantities (approximately 40 to 150 kg/ha) of available green grass, and it appeared that their propensity to eat scarce green forage influenced their locoweed consumption as well. Horses ate relatively little dry grass, even when it was abundant, whereas cattle ate large amounts of dry grass until green grasses became more abundant. Calves began eating locoweed on the same day as their dams and ate approximately 20% of their bites as locoweed. Serum concentrations of swainsonine were higher (P < 0.05) in horses than in cattle (433 vs. 170 ng/mL, respectively). Baseline swainsonine was zero in all animals, but swainsonine was rapidly increased to above 800 ng/mL in serum of horses as they ate locoweed. Horses exhibited depression after eating locoweed for about 2 wk; after 5 wk of exposure, horses became anorectic and behaviorally unstable. Although limited in scope, this study indicates that horses should not be exposed to spotted locoweed.