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Views and opinions: Name your poison, and take your chances with the cows


Today's lesson is about poisonous plants, dangerous delectables and fatal feedstuffs. I'm talking nightshade, lupine, milkweed and the poison used to kill Socrates: Hemlock.

Water hemlock is said to look a lot like parsnips, and a human can die in half an hour just by licking the blade of the knife used to cut a hemlock root. That’s why I avoid all feedstuffs that look like vegetables.

Some plants are poisonous only in huge doses. A 500-pound calf would have to eat 1.5 pounds of cocklebur seed to die. The preferred plant for cows considering suicide is locoweed, but a bovine has to become addicted to it and eat it for 2-3 weeks to go nuts, or develop what cow coroners call "wet brain" (also known as “Congressperson brain”).

An old cowboy once told me to just remember that most poisonous plants are yellow and have three leaves; "Three leaves, stay clear; five leaves, no fear." I've never had a cow die from eating a poisonous plant, but that doesn't mean there aren’t some really dangerous feedstuffs a cow can consume.

Here’s my list of the worst:

•Floral arrangements: Although I've never engaged in the practice, I understand there are some men who buy their wives, girlfriends or both arrangements of flowers at a place called a "florist." If you're a cattleman, you have a good excuse for not buying such things.

One time a neighbor threw an old flower arrangement over her back fence and one of my cows ate it and got really sick. Although we could never prove it, the vet and I believe it was the delphiniums.

•Alfalfa: I'll never forget the time I saw two dozen bloated carcasses by the side of the road and a rancher sitting on top of one of them bawling his eyes out. He had dragged them there to make it easier for the tallow man to put them in his truck.

The cows died from instant gasification, you might say. I heard later that the rancher thought a change of pasture was just what the cows needed, but the next day there was another batch of dead cows. Prussic acid has killed more cows than your vet and “Mad Cow” put together.

•Hay: Ranchers routinely throw their net worth out of the back end of the feed truck, and every flake they throw is a dollar not saved for retirement, or spent on a romantic vacation with the wife. Putting up hay is a leading cause of exhaustion, accidents and divorce.

This is why when they hear of an approaching fire, most ranchers, instead of saving their herd, their family or their barbed wire collection, will scream, "Save the haystack!”

•Vegetables: Although there were nine wires on the fence between a rancher’s cows and his neighbor's carrot and lettuce fields, the hungry herd broke through and trampled and consumed 40 acres of lettuce and carrots on a $25 per-carton lettuce market.

Like most vegetarians, the cows were clammy, pasty-looking, aloof, smelly and sickly afterwards. They got the Trotsky Two-Step and their cow pies glowed an iridescent orange. The legal settlement was so huge the rancher couldn’t even look at a salad bar without upchucking.

•Corn: Cheap corn is one of the most dangerous plants in the world. In order to "capture extra profits" economists opine about, farmer/ranchers feed their corn to their cattle instead of just taking their lumps and selling the corn and the calves.

A farmer friend once told me he would have lost less money if, on the day he put his calves in his own makeshift feedlot, every one of them would have dropped dead.

•Green grass: Easily the most dangerous plant known to man. It has ruined more ranchers than trich or the BLM. The symptoms of “grass fever” are a constant smile on the face of cattlemen, an outbreak of new trucks and the sight of ranchers treating their wives to lunch at the sale yard coffee shop.

Green grass fever disrupts the cognitive process and regular function of brain cells and causes ranchers to pay crazy prices for old, barren, toothless cows. The prognosis is bad and the sufferer should be quarantined until the market crashes or the brain synapses start firing again.


The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers may log on to to order any of Lee Pitts’ books. Those with questions or comments for Lee may write to him in care of this publication.