Pasture and Forage Minute: Nightshade Poisoning, Planning Forage During Shortages and Inflation

 Nightshade plant
Large populations of black nightshade in corn stalks can be deadly to livestock, so careful observation during grazing is recommended.

Pasture and Forage Minute: Nightshade Poisoning, Planning Forage During Shortages and Inflation

Nightshade in Corn Residue

By Jerry Volesky

Have you noticed any black nightshade in your corn stalks that you are grazing or plan to graze? If these fields have too much black nightshade, be careful — it might be toxic.

Black nightshade is common in many corn fields in the fall, especially those that had hail damage in the summer or any situation where the corn canopy became thin or open. It usually isn’t a problem, but if the density of nightshade is very high, there is the potential that it could poison livestock. Almost all livestock, including cattle, sheep, swine, horses and poultry are susceptible.                                    

Black nightshade plants average about two feet in height and have simple alternating leaves. In the fall, berries are green and become black as the plant matures. All plant parts contain some of the toxin and the concentration increases as plants mature, except in the berries. Freezing temperatures will not reduce the toxicity.

It is very difficult to determine exactly how much black nightshade is risky. Guidelines say that a cow would need to consume three to four pounds of fresh black nightshade to be at risk of being poisoned. These guidelines, though, are considered conservative since there is little data on the actual toxicity of nightshade plants. Reports of nightshade poisoning have been very scarce in the past, which is also encouraging.

Fortunately, even though nightshade plants remain green fairly late into the fall, cattle usually don’t appear to seek out nightshade plants to graze. However, green plants of nightshade might become tempting toward the end of a field’s grazing period when there is less grain, husks or leaves to consume.  

Common sense and good observation must be your guide. Scouting fields to estimate the general density of nightshade plants will help you determine any potential risk. Secondly, and particularly near the end of a field’s grazing period, closely observe what the cattle are eating to see if animals might be selecting nightshade plants.

Planning for Forage

By Ben Beckman

No matter what forage you use, establishing and managing a forage system takes time and planning to ensure a return. With shortages and high costs for fertilizer and seed on the horizon, planning out your next steps for a forage crop has never been more important.

Drought conditions across the western U.S. have taken their toll on seed production for a number of forage crop species. From rye to bromegrass, getting your hands on seed you need may be more difficult and costly. Not only will planning ahead and securing your seed early save some headaches down the road, but it will also provide a more accurate budget from which to work. For some projects this year, scaling down the size or waiting on a reseeding may be a prudent option.

Many forage crops benefit from some additional fertility to boost yield and quality. With fertilizer prices on the rise and availability in question, we need to look at this portion of our forage systems earlier than ever before. Are other fertilizer options like livestock manure available? Can a lower rate still provide worthwhile yield improvements? Should a different forage crop be considered? In annual systems, how will the forage crop used affect fertilizer needs for subsequent row or forage crops? These questions need to be considered and taken into account ahead of next year’s growing season.  

Finally, we need to consider the value of a forage crop in our system. We saw firsthand this year how dry conditions can raise the price of hay and limit availability, even when the hardest hit areas are a state or two away. Despite supply chain issues raising inputs like fertilizer and seed, the silage, hay or grazing produced at the end of the day may very well be worth the increased cost of production. Who knows what Mother Nature has planned for 2022?

No matter what your operation, planning for forage production next year has never been more critical. With shortages and high costs in seed and fertilizer, figuring out how to manage and fit a forage crop into the rest of an operation may take some extra effort. Start planning now to ensure you have the time to work it all out.

Subscribe to Pasture and Forage Minute

Online Master of Science in Agronomy

With a focus on industry applications and research, the online program is designed with maximum flexibility for today's working professionals.

A field of corn.