May is a special month as the whole month celebrates beef!

The United States is the largest producer of beef as well as the largest consumer. Beef is a great nutritional source for protein and supplies 10 essential nutrients, including B-vitamins, zinc and iron that support an active and healthy lifestyle.

Sierra Cain

Lean beef cuts also provide more protein per caloric intake than other popular protein sources, such as chicken, black beans and quinoa.

While beef cows are a great source of protein and nutrients, cattle produce many other products we use every day. Paint brushes, soap and sporting goods are a few products derived from the hide, hair and fats of a cow. In fact, just one hide from a cow could produce 12 basketballs!

New Mexico has an estimated 1.6 million cows, but not all of the cows are used for beef purposes. Many cattle in New Mexico are used for dairy products in addition to beef products.

While we have an impressive amount of cows in our state, cattle producers vary from large operations to small backyard operations. Two popular uses for our smaller operations in Valencia County are meat and grazing purposes. Knowing how, where and what cattle can graze on is an important factor to consider when allowing animals on open fields or rangeland.

There are several common weeds and garden crops we plant and grow in New Mexico that can potentially be toxic when ingested. When allowing livestock to graze on a pasture, you should always consider doing a basic range assessment to identify the common plants growing in the area before allowing livestock to consume any of the plant material. You can always reach out to your local Extension services to help with weed and plant identification.

Once plants have been identified, go to for New Mexico State University Extension publications and find a variety of lists for toxic weeds and plants to livestock. You can also reach out to the Extension office for a list or help in toxic plants.

Remember, not all plants are equally toxic to all species of livestock. Be sure to find a list including the toxicity specifically for the livestock being grazed such as cattle, sheep, goats, horses etc. Plant toxicity also involves the amount of the plant material ingested, meaning plants are toxic at certain levels of consumption. Some common toxic weeds are milkweed, pigweed, lambs quarters and nightshades.

Another important consideration is a yard or garden. If you are a livestock owner, you may want to look up the plants and vegetables grown in your yard and garden for toxicity if there will be animals grazing near or in the area. Some common toxic garden plants are cabbage, turnips, broccoli, celery and mustard.

Several cherry and onion varieties are also not safe for livestock. Not all parts of the plant are toxic in most cases and toxins are typically found in various parts of the plant.

Cattle are a very important source of food and income to our state and country. Cattle production can be a great outlet for pasture grazing and meat production whether it’s being produced on a large or small scale. I hope you celebrate beef production this month!

If you have further questions on plant toxicity or would like a link to toxic plant publications, please reach out to the Valencia County Extension Office.

Program announcements

To register for an upcoming program, call the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service at 565-3002. For more information, visit

• Ready, Set, GROW! Virtual gardening classes are from 2-3 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of the month. Register at or contact Lynda Garvin at

• Gardening with the Masters Virtual Gardening Classes are held from 2-3:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month. Learn about companion plants for your vegetable garden Register at or contact Lynda Garvin at

If you are an individual with a disability who requires auxiliary aid or service to participate in a program, please contact the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service Office at 565-3002 two weeks in advance of the event.

New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and education. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.

(Sierra Cain is the Valencia County 4-H and youth development agent for the Valencia County Cooperative Extension Service.)

Sierra Cain, guest columnist

Sierra Cain is the Valencia County 4-H/Youth Development agent for the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service.