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Published May 04, 2008, 12:00 AM

Will's Windmill Column: Cattle producers: Vaccinate for anthrax

As you probably heard or read in the news the Minnesota Board of Animal Health confirmed recently that two cows in Becker County died recently of anthrax.

As you probably heard or read in the news the Minnesota Board of Animal Health confirmed recently that two cows in Becker County died recently of anthrax. These are the first anthrax cases in 2008, but many northwestern Minnesota counties have had anthrax cases in recent years.

Anthrax is a naturally occurring disease caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis. The spores can survive in the soil for years. All warm-blooded animals are susceptible to the disease but cattle, sheep, and goats are the most commonly affected species. In most cases, especially in recent years, animals have contracted anthrax after grazing pastures that have has gone through a drought or a flood. In the Becker County case, the animals where exposed to pastures with a known history of anthrax.

The Board of Animal health strongly recommends cattle producers vaccinate herds in northwestern Minnesota for Anthrax. Contact your veterinarian for further information. Also if you have animals that die suddenly, one should suspect anthrax, and contact a veterinarian so that blood samples can be taken. Necropsies should not be performed on suspect carcasses as the procedure can result in contamination of surrounding soil.

For more information on anthrax and steps farmers can take to protect their cattle, visit the Board of Animal Health website at or call them at 651-201-6831.

Did all this crazy weather damage your alfalfa?

There are a number of locations in the upper Midwest that are reporting damage to alfalfa stands. With the weather so erratic this spring, it has been difficult to evaluate stands in Hubbard and Becker and other central Minnesota counties. Though we have had good snow cover for most of the winter, it may be a good idea to walk alfalfa fields to see if the winter did any damage to your stands.

To evaluate an alfalfa stand, estimate the number of live plants per square foot. The best way to do this is to dig up and count the plants in a 1 to 2-square foot area in several parts of the field. Second year stands (seeded last year) should have 10 to 12 plants per square foot, and third year or older stands should have 5 to 6 plants per square foot for optimal yield potential. When making plant counts, consider only those plants that appear healthy with vigorous shoot growth.

Carefully evaluate the condition of new buds and new shoots for evidence of injury. Healthy plants with no winter injury will show vigorous, symmetrical growth all the way around the crown. Injured legume plants will often show asymmetrical growth caused by injury to part of the crown.

Take a random sample of the plants that were dug up for making stand counts. Split the taproots lengthwise to look for internal discoloration of the taproot tissue. Healthy taproots will be firm and creamy white. Root and crown rot will appear as various darker shades. The degree of root and crown rot affects plant productivity, vigor, and long-term survival. If taproots are watery, tan or yellow, or already desiccating, it is an indication that freeze injury has occurred and the plants will likely die.

Visually estimate the ground cover of desirable forage plants as the stand develops 4 to 6 inches of new growth.

Stands with more than 80 percent ground cover and good vigor will produce excellent yields, stands with 60-80 percent ground cover should produce fair yields, stands with 40 to 60 percent ground cover will probably produce yields in the 60 percent range of normal, and stands of 20-40 percent ground cover will yield less than half their normal potential.

Weeds will become a real problem in the thinner stands, and over seeding with grass or destroying the stand and rotating out to another crop should be considered.

For more information on alfalfa stand evaluation, please contact me: Will Yliniemi, Hubbard/Becker County Extension Educator at 1-218-732-3391, 1-218-846-7328 or by cell at 1-218-252-1042, or by email at