• Effects of phenology, site, and rumen fill on tall larkspur consumption by cattle

      Pfister, J. A.; Manners, G. D.; Ralphs, M. H.; Hong, Z. X.; Lane, M. A. (Society for Range Management, 1988-11-01)
      Tall larkspur (Delphinium barbeyi) is a major cause of livestock death on mountain ranges. The influence of plant phenology, grazing site, and rumen fill on tall larkspur consumption was evaluated during July and August, 1987. Livestock consumption of larkspur was determined using bite counts during 4 phenological stages: bud, early flower, flower, and pod. Further, we examined larkspur ingestion in a shaded tree site and in an open sun site at 0, 50, and 100% rumen fill levels using ruminally cannulated steers. Steers on the 0, 50, and 100% fill levels consumed 9, 15, and 17% larkspur, respectively (P=0.15). There was a site effect (P=0.06) with steers eating 17 and 11% larkspur in the shade and sun sites, respectively. Over the summer, larkspur comprised 6% of cattle diets. No larkspur was consumed during the bud stage. Larkspur consumption peaked at 10% of cattle diets during the pod stage. Leaves of tall larkspur contained >3% total alkaloids (dry weight) in early July, but declined greatly with maturation. Larkspur was very nutritious, with crude protein levels 12 to 20%, and fiber levels <20% during most of the summer. Cattle diets, as determined with esophageally fistulated animals, were also high in crude protein and low in fiber during the summer. We propose a toxic window hypothesis relating larkspur palatability and toxicity. This hypothesis predicts that most cattle losses will occur during the flowering stage. We found that tall larkspur was unpalatable to cattle from the bud stage until the flowering racemes had elongated, and then consumption generally increased with plant maturation. Even though palatability and consumption increase during the grazing season, cattle can graze tall larkspur with a much lower risk of toxicosis when toxicity is low later in the grazing season.