Got Great Cattle? Don't Blow it With Bloat

The thought of cattle grazing lush pastures is nice. But if there’s high legume content, bloat can quickly squash that idyllic image, causing significant issues for the health of your herd. The risk of bloat needs to be monitored most carefully by southern graziers when Spring begins, but suffice it to say we could all benefit from understanding how to manage bloat in cattle.

Learn about the causes, symptoms and treatments of cattle bloat to ensure your herd is hearty.

What is Cattle Bloat?

A ruminant’s digestion process produces significant quantities of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) from the fermentation of feedstuff. These gases usually escape through belching, but bloat can occur when an accumulation of these gases gets trapped in the rumen in excess.

Some legumes have naturally occurring foaming agents that can trap gas in the rumen, preventing the normal process of burping. This trapped gas causes a build-up of pressure, which can cause problems as severe as heart or lung failure, causing death.

Bloat predominantly occurs in early Spring when livestock is exposed to lush, rapidly growing pastures with a high content of legumes such as clover, lucerne and medics. In high-risk pastures, death rates can be as high as 20%. It is a significant problem for the industry due to mortalities and loss of production—despite bloat being largely preventable.

What's the Best Way to Prevent Cattle Bloat?

As with most livestock conditions, prevention is the key! With a few simple changes to how you manage your paddock, bloat can be beaten—and replaced by belching. We suggest you:

  • Maintain quick paddock rotations to keep cattle on a more uniform plane of nutrition.
  • Ensure hungry cattle don’t graze on high-risk pastures.
  • Allow a slow introduction period to pastures with high legume content, particularly when pastures are in the early growth phases.
  • Run sheep in front of cattle – sheep are less susceptible to bloat than cattle and can selectively graze the more lush grass and legume species.
  • Manage pastures to maintain a substantial grass percentage.

What are the Symptoms of Livestock Bloat?

Once your prevention strategies are in place, you must understand the symptoms of livestock bloat, so you know what to look for. Like health conditions in humans and other animals, quick detection and rapid response will be essential if bloat occurs. Symptoms of livestock bloat include:

  • Swelling and distension on the animal’s left side
  • Reduced feed intake
  • Lethargy, depression and unwillingness to move
  • Obvious distress – bellowing, bulging eyes, mouth open
  • Rapid breathing with a protruding tongue

How Can Bloat in Cattle be Treated?

If you find your cattle are suffering from bloat, there are ways to manage it. We suggest:

  • Slow-release anti-bloat capsules
  • Anti-bloat lick blocks
  • Water medication such as Teric Bloat Liquid Trocar fitted with a cannula, which you can use to puncture the rumen in emergencies only

Useful References

The Merck Veterinary Manual Bloat in Ruminants

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