- Author: Mike Hsu
Planning brochure for pets, livestock fills crucial need as fires an increasing threat
With the McKinney Fire creeping closer to Yreka in the summer of 2022, Emily Jackson and her mother potentially faced the enormous task of getting all their goats, chickens, dogs and cats to safety – while Emily's father and twin sister Lindsay were away fighting the fires.
Fortunately, Emily and Lindsay had gained crucial knowledge about evacuating animals through a 4-H service-learning project they helped lead in 2018. A group of eight 4-H youths, ages 14 to 18, had created a “Pet Emergency Evacuation Plan” (PEEP) brochure, aimed at educating their neighbors in Siskiyou County about the necessary preparations for livestock and pets.
The brochure, available through the Siskiyou County website, remains in use today in this densely forested region that saw another spate of wildfires this summer. The PEEP project team was composed of Kylie Daws, Emily Jackson, Lindsay Jackson, Will Morris, Madison Restine, Maryssa Rodriguez, Emily Smith and Callahan Zediker.
Within those stressful hours in 2022 when the McKinney Fire prompted an evacuation warning during which residents could be required to leave at any moment, Emily Jackson said she and her mother had a game plan in place – thanks to her work on the PEEP project.
“At the time, it wasn't even on my mind,” Jackson said, “but looking back now, I know that having the experience from making that brochure was driving my thought process at the time.”
And while the Jackson family and their neighbors ultimately were not asked to evacuate in 2022, many community members have benefited from the hundreds of copies of the PEEP brochure in circulation, which prompts residents to at least think about what their animals would need in an emergency, Jackson said.
Pet and livestock evacuation tips were needed
Such a resource previously had not been available among the county's emergency preparation materials, according to Jacki Zediker, the 4-H regional program coordinator in Siskiyou County who advised the PEEP project group.
“One piece that was missing was how to help our communities understand that when they evacuate, and they take their pets with them…it's not as simple as just taking their pets with them,” said Zediker, citing the example that some shelters do not take in animals – or do not take animals without proof of vaccination.
Other items to add to the pet's emergency kit include food for several days, water, medications, comfort items or toys, and recent photos of the owner with their animal (proof of ownership).
Zediker had connected the young people with Jodi Aceves, senior deputy agriculture commissioner/sealer for Siskiyou County, who had been overseeing the county's Animal Control programs and emergency response.
“There's a lot of information out there for people evacuating, but not necessarily for livestock and pets,” Aceves said. “Unfortunately, we have had some fires where there were lots of pets and livestock lost.”
She met several times with the 4-H group, discussing the county's evacuation systems and processes and the role of the Office of Emergency Services and law enforcement agencies, and sharing key considerations in preparing for emergencies – such as having a pre-agreement in place with someone who could house an evacuee's animals.
Aceves praised the teens for distilling the vital information into a short and simple brochure that community members could easily read and remember. She also was impressed by the energy and genuine care that the young people put into the project.
“Most of their lives, every summer, they've been in fire,” Aceves said. “It's close to their hearts, and they've seen a lot of their neighbors and other people in the county either affected by fire or evacuated at some point.”
For Lindsay Jackson, in particular, fire and serving the community have been lifelong passions, inspired by her father's work in the area.
“My dad was a volunteer fire chief for the South Yreka Fire Department; he was doing that since I was about two or three, so I grew up watching him go to the trainings, go to a call,” she explained. “When I was 15, I joined the fire department as a cadet to help out with the medical side, but the more I volunteered, I really liked the fire side, too.”
Jackson added that Zediker has a special knack for nurturing and encouraging the interests of the 4-H participants and applying them in a productive way.
“Jacki was really good at figuring out where our passions were and then how we could put our passions into a service-learning project,” she said. “She knew I was really big into fire and helping the community in that way since I was young.”
Zediker also helped the Jackson twins on their senior project, a fire-safety field day at the South Yreka fire station. More than 100 schoolchildren learned fire safety basics, met firefighters and emergency personnel, and heard about 4-H from Lindsay and Emily.
4-H experiences, mentorship inspire career paths
The PEEP project group also was asked by several organizations to share their knowledge about emergency preparations for animals. In addition to presenting a poster about their work at the 4-H California Focus conference in 2018, the group handed out the brochure and shared information at a table during a Juniper Flat Fire Safe Council workshop and resource fair.
Beyond distributing the PEEP brochure at 4-H club meetings, school events and community meetings, the youths have lent their voices to advocating for emergency resources for animals. Zediker noted that they contributed testimonials that helped the county acquire grants for purchasing more portable kennels.
But the most enduring impact of 4-H participation and community service, however, is that those experiences were a springboard for the young adults' careers. Emily Jackson – who participated in 4-H from age 5 to 19 – is now working toward a master's degree in biology at Cal Poly Humboldt, studying how fire suppression and other factors have changed plant communities in the Russian Wilderness.
Whether training colleagues as a U.S. Forest Service crew lead for the past couple of summers, or leading lab sections in general botany as a graduate student, Jackson said she draws on her 4-H experiences – and Zediker's inspirational example – as she pursues a career in teaching.
“In my development as a young adult into an adult now, I cannot overstate how big of a role Jacki played in that,” Jackson said.
Her sister Lindsay, meanwhile, has pursued her passion for fire all the way through the fire academy at College of the Siskiyous, where she also earned her emergency medical technician (EMT) license. Most recently working on fires near Pondosa in Siskiyou County, Jackson has been a seasonal firefighter based at the McCloud CAL FIRE station since 2020.
“It's hard because, in the last three years, I haven't left Siskiyou County, there's just been so many fires here,” she said. “But it's nice being able to help your community and know you're making a difference.”
Lindsay Jackson intends to pursue a bachelor's degree in leadership studies at Cal Poly Humboldt in hopes of getting a full-time position with CAL FIRE./h3>/h3>/h3>
Some plants thrive even in dry years, while others need wet years to really blossom. It's no surprise, then, that this year the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) Fresno office has received several inquiries about potentially toxic plants and how to deal with them. Even if these species have always been present in the seed bank or on neighboring land, this year was a good year for toxic plants to grow large where previously they grew very small – or didn't grow at all.
Common plants that can cause livestock poisoning include annuals such as cockleburs, hairy fleabane, and yellow starthistle, and perennials like curly dock, larkspurs, and milkweeds. Annuals especially tend to respond vigorously to available soil moisture as they need to germinate a new generation each year from seed. Depending on how rapidly these plants develop roots, they may be able to produce a second generation (or more) even in the summer season. Populations of toxic plants may expand this year due to the good growing conditions.
Maintaining healthy, diverse stands of forage to compete with toxic plants and to provide ample non-toxic options is the best prevention of plant poisonings in livestock. Grazing moderately is an important practice to maintain a healthy, diverse community of forage plants. Grazing too heavily can reduce desired species and allow toxic plants to become more common. Many toxic plants are not palatable, so they are avoided when other, desirable forage is available. However, animals may not be able to avoid harmful plants if a pasture is dominated by them. In those cases, it may be best to remove animals from that pasture and/or provide them with an alternate feed source until the toxic plant is reduced.
When managing fields for hay production, minimizing the population of toxic plants is critical. Animals can't be selective around different plant parts in hay bales or flakes, and many toxic plants are harmful even in very small quantities.
Risk and monitoring
At this time in the summer, many common toxic plants in California are highly visible in contrast to dry, golden annual grasses. Monitoring could be as simple as driving or walking along fencelines and especially checking high-impact areas such as corrals, holding pens, water troughs, and mineral licks. Riparian areas are also important monitoring areas, such as the banks of creeks and streams. These can be key host sites for toxic plants, and animals like to spend time in those cooler areas during the summer. Animal exposure to toxic plants may be higher when the annual forages have dried up and lush green plants may be enticing.
When monitoring key areas on your property, take photos and/or samples of unfamiliar plants. You can send pictures or bring samples to your local UCCE office (find yours here) for assistance in identifying the plants and any necessary management strategies. If you bring a sample, please be sure to bag the whole plant, including the roots if possible. If you take pictures, try to have a photo that shows the full plant, as well close-ups of the leaf shape, flowers or fruits/seeds, and any other unique features such as spines or hairs.
You can also use the online weed ID tool at the Weed RIC website to narrow down possible plants yourself. Be sure to change the Search Location to California!
To learn more about plants that are toxic to livestock, you can download the UC ANR publication, Livestock-poisoning Plants of California, for free b y clicking HERE. This resource includes useful photos of common harmful plants as well as detailed information about the health impacts of different plants on cattle, sheep, goats, and horses.
Once you have a confirmed plant ID, you can find out what management practices can control the species you have. Weed reports from the UC ANR publication Weed Control in Natural Areas in the Western United States are one of the best resources that describe all possible control methods, and how well they can work. You can download specific weed reports here or purchase the full book from your local UCCE office, or online here.
If you have livestock with signs of plant toxicity, contact your veterinarian for support. If livestock have died, you can contact the CAHFS lab nearest you to get an estimate for a necropsy or other toxicology tests.
- Author: Saoimanu Sope
Hopland REC turns 2018 River Fire devastation into research opportunity
The destructiveness of wildfire flames is easy to see, but dangers may lurk in the ashes they leave behind. A group of UC Davis scientists studied lambs at the UC Hopland Research and Extension Center, investigating whether pastures regrown after a wildfire cause toxic metal residues in grazing animals. The results, published in California Agriculture journal, showed that grazing on regrown pastures did not significantly alter the metal content of the lambs' meat and wool. That's good news for ranchers and consumers from a food safety perspective.
In 2018, the River Fire burned six miles north of Hopland, scorching two-thirds of the land at Hopland REC, including areas in its sheep station. Since Hopland REC conducts ecological and agricultural research, they had data and some meat samples from the sheep flock that lived on site before the River Fire occurred.
“A bunch of researchers came together to brainstorm how we could take advantage of this unfortunate event,” said Sarah Depenbrock, assistant professor and agronomist in the Medicine and Epidemiology department of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Burning has played a role in agricultural processes for many years, but wildfires in California are creating a new fire landscape that interests researchers like Depenbrock. “The problem, now, is that these big wildfires probably interact with agricultural land differently than routine prescribed burns,” she said.
Large, older plants on lands that have not recently burned may contain high concentrations of metals, sequestered over years of growth. Mercury is an example of a potentially dangerous metal that can be sequestered in living things over time. These metals may be distributed in ash after the vegetation burns so the scientists examined lambs that had grazed on Hopland REC's recently burned pastures, during the first plant regrowth.
Uncertain results raise more questions
The researchers compared meat from lambs that grazed on regrown pastures in 2019, after the River Fire, to frozen meat samples that were collected the year before the fire. Lead, mercury, arsenic, molybdenum, cadmium, beryllium, cobalt and nickel were not detected in any animal samples. There were, however, a few (3 out of 26) samples that tested positive for the non-essential (potentially toxic heavy metals) chromium and thallium in the group grazing after the fire.
Due to the small number of samples testing positive, researchers could not determine statistically if this contamination was associated with grazing the burn regrowth. The concentrations of chromium and thallium found may or may not be potentially toxic, depending on the specific forms and how much meat a person consumes.
Another aspect of the study included testing lambs' wool to determine if it is a good method of judging the mineral content of its meat. “In general, we learned that it wasn't well-correlated with most meat metal content of interest, which is worth knowing. However, because we did not identify many of the non-essential metals of particular toxologic concern, such as lead or mercury, in any animal samples we could not determine if testing wool would be useful for those metals, as they are in other species,” said Depenbrock. She also notes that the wool from animals whose meat tested positive for chromium and thallium, did not test positive for these metals in their wool.
As the challenges in managing wildfires persist, so does the risk of contamination of food products stemming from grazing livestock.
“We didn't get striking evidence that tells us, when there's a fire, it means everything is contaminated with heavy metals,” said Depenbrock. “But it does raise the question that maybe we should be doing a little bit of surveillance to see if this is spurious or common. And we should be finding a way to screen grazing herds.”
Recommendations to manage copper concerns
“It's a very small study, but it was quite interesting to find that copper was actually lower in the postfire grazing group, which makes me wonder,” Depenbrock said.
Diseases associated with copper deficiency are a major concern in sheep. For example, congenital swayback can result in stillbirth or an animal's inability to stand on its own due to incurable changes to the spinal cord. Other adverse effects include reduced growth rate, anemia, wool defects and fiber depigmentation, and osteoporosis with higher risk of spontaneous fractures. Copper excess can also cause serious and sometimes fatal disease.
Many of the forage sources, grazing areas and rangelands in California are copper deficient, while some feed sources have excess copper. Screening and monitoring livestock herds for trace minerals including copper is crucial.
To test for copper, she advises livestock owners to obtain mineral concentrations from the organs of euthanized or dead animals. Samples from the liver and kidney are the most valuable organs to identify a potential problem in the herd. UC Davis Veterinary Medicine's California Animal Health and Food Safety (CAHFS) labs do this testing routinely.
Second, monitor and record mineral supplementation and, third, maintain updated health records to make informed decisions regarding supplementation based on a herd or flock's known problems. For example, if a producer is not accustomed to supplementing copper, Depenbrock highly recommends working with a veterinarian to start out (as there are numerous copper supplement products of varying concentration on the market), to determine a testing or screening plan, and review health records for problems potentially associated with copper.
To read the full text of the study, visit https://calag.ucanr.edu/Archive/?article=ca.2022a0016.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Survey results will help to identify critical areas that need additional research or extension services related to parasites management in organic production. The questionnaire takes 10-15 minutes to complete. The provided information will not include any identification beyond regional location and will be kept strictly confidential.
More information about the Farm Animal Risk Mitigation Prepare, Prevent, Evaluate project and webinars can be found at the FARM PPE website.
The deadline for participating in the organic livestock survey has been extended to May 31. The survey link is https://ucdavis.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_77pA9H94xKMA27s.
If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please contact Alda Pires, UC Cooperative Extension specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org or Noelia Silva del Rio, UCCE specialist, at email@example.com or Teresa Miranda at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Alfalfa & Forage News blog (April 29, 2022)
What is vetch? There are several species that are commonly grown as crops, cover crops or weeds (see list at the bottom). Vetch is a winter-hardy legume that's favored by early fall rains, which we had lots of last October (5.5-in in 24-hr in Sacramento). Vetch is also a nitrogen-fixing plant that works well as a cover crop in farming systems. It's also a good forage for bees and other pollinators and has extra floral nectaries (glands on stems that produce nectar) that attract beneficial insects like parasitoid wasps that prey on pests.
Is it a good livestock feed? Yes and no. As an annual leguminous vigorous herbaceous plant, vetch has high protein and relatively low fiber and reasonably high yields. It's vigorous growth and N fixing qualities is why it is so valuable as a cover crop, but it can also be grazed or fed as hay. Its quality is lower than that of alfalfa or clovers (protein levels from 15-20% depending upon stage of growth). It is commonly grown in mixes with small grains or grasses as a mix in different parts of the US. Vetch hay is difficult to handle due to the vine-like characteristics, and caution should be used due to anti-nutritional compounds and livestock palatability.
Anti-nutritional compounds. However, vetch hay can cause serious (and potentially fatal) animal health problems, so is not recommended as a primary forage for horses and cows. Most of the anti-nutritional compounds are concentrated in the seeds, so immature harvests are recommended. Vetch seeds are poisonous; they contain cyanogenic glycosides and a diglucoside that can cause a neurologic disease. Although hairy vetch (V. villosa) and purple vetch (V. benghalensis) seeds are the most toxic (being very closely related), other vetches have toxic seeds too, including common vetch (V. sativa). In addition, a toxin in vetch foliage is associated with a dermatitis or skin sensitivity disease, though this is extremely rare and not well understood. Most cases of vetch-induced dermatitis involve black cattle, such as Angus or Holstein, and horses can also be affected, so there may be specific susceptibility explained by a genetic predisposition. Lack of good information makes is difficult to assess vetch hay suitability for small ruminants like sheep, though there is anecdotal information that suggests it might be okay for goats.
How about rangelands? Vetch growing on grazing rangelands is actually a good, high-protein feed for livestock. In open range, cattle typically won't graze vetch until it dries down and seeds have shattered. On a hot day you can hear dry pods snap, crackle, and pop, like a bowl of Rice Krispies. Vetch is not favored by livestock when green due to low palatability (bitterness).
How about pastureland? Fenced pastures loaded with vetch going to seed could spell trouble for horses and cows, especially if there is little else to eat. Toxicity risk can be alleviated by ensuring other forage options are available and by stocking animals at very low densities and giving them the option to selectively consume non-toxic plants and avoid toxic plants. Again, once the plant has dried down and seeds have shattered (detached and fallen), it should be okay as grazing feed.
How big a problem is vetch toxicity? The California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory at UC Davis has had a few cases of vetch toxicity to cattle and horses over the years, but not many. It's still unclear if this means few cattle are exposed to vetch or few cattle actually develop disease. It's still kind of a mystery as to why vetch is sometimes a problem and other times not. It might be a matter of the degree of its presence in animal diets – low percentage is okay, high percentage more problematic. "Dose makes the poison" as a toxicologist would say.
How about croplands? Oats and vetch used to be a popular mix for feed, but not anymore and hay growers try to keep it out of their forage crops. If cereal grains are in a crop rotation, vetch seed is about the same size as wheat and barley kernels, making it hard and expensive to separate during seed cleaning. Vetch is also hard-seeded, meaning seed can lie in the ground dormant for years and germinate when not wanted, though the viability for most seed is about 5 years, allowing opportunities for management. For control, one can mow prior to pod and seed set or use broadleaf or pre-emergent herbicides if needed.
Vetch identification. To differentiate different species of vetch one needs to look at the flowers. Common vetch (V. sativa) has flowers with a short stalk (peduncle), meaning the flowers are attached close to the stem from where it originates (picture). Hairy vetch (V. villosa), purple vetch (V. benghalensis), and American vetch (V. americana) all have flowers with long stalks. Hairy and purple vetch flowers are aligned on one side of the flower axis (picture) whereas American vetch flowers are more upright (picture). Purple vetch will generally have flowers about the same size as the leaflets (picture), while the flowers on hairy vetch are generally larger or longer than the leaflet (picture).
What types of vetch are found around California on agricultural and rangelands? According to Dr. Alison Colwell, Curator, UC Davis Herbarium, the following are the rankings of vetch (Vicia) species abundance by county. This information comes from the Consortium of California Herbaria (https://cch2.org). The data are from all years that collections were made, which is basically the past 100 years. The take-home point of this analysis is that there are several similar vetch species that are all spottily dominant around California.
Yolo County (all ag)
- V. villosa (hairy; lana/woollypod subsp. varia)
- V. sativa (common)
- V. benghalensis (purple)
Mariposa County (mostly ranch/public land, central)
- V. americana (American vetch; native plant)
- V. sativa
- V. benghalensis
Butte County (part ag, part ranch, north)
- V. villosa
- V. sativa
- V. americana
Tulare County (ag, arid, south)
- V. americana
- (3-way tie) V. benghalensis, V. sativa and V. villosa
Stanislaus County (ag, central)
- V. villosa
- V. sativa
- V. americana
Original source: Alfalfa & Forage Newsblog (April 29, 2022)