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Save the Cows

Posted by Stephanie A. Smith, Ph.D. on Mon, Aug 12, 2013 @ 07:03 AM

Dairy Cow Man, I love ice cream.  LOVE it.  It gets a place on my love list not far behind my husband and my beagle.  Likely because of this infatuation, cows also hold a special place in my heart, especially Jerseys since a special Jersey farm in Ohio makes some of my favorite ice cream.  This blog is about the cows.  Save the cows, people.  Save the cows.

If you’ve read my blogs before you’re probably wondering what this has to do with my normal topics related to harmful algal blooms (HABs).  The connection is that livestock deaths can result, and do almost every summer, from animals ingesting water containing toxic algae.  I’ve blogged about the risks of exposure to toxic algae from a human perspective, but many people don’t realize that livestock exposures are one of the biggest problems caused by HABs.   From Kansas to Georgia, there have been cases where farm ponds used for cattle watering have become infested with toxic cyanobacteria such as Microcystis aeruginosa, and cattle that ingest the water get very sick or even die.

How much of an issue is this?  What is the economic impact?  How many animals die each year?  I don’t know, but I came upon a good presentation on this topic by Val Beasley, a veterinarian from the University of Illinois who has documented livestock deaths over the years.  His slides give one a sense of the potential (wide!) scope of the issue.  However, as he points out, there is not a single place where these data are collected, and cases where toxic algae are suspected in livestock deaths are rarely confirmed.  It’s expensive to confirm—who is going to pay for it?  The farmer?  The Department of Agriculture?  Donations from concerned citizens?  Research budgets?  But it’s also really expensive to lose a cow, or part of a herd.  Like other HAB-related issues I’ve blogged about, research must be sponsored in order to fully understand the scope and depth of the risks to livestock as a consequence of HABs, and funds are needed to support the relatively few qualified laboratories that can do this testing.

In a future blog I will discuss what the sources are for funding HAB research.  When will that research money be available?  Maybe when I scream, you scream, we all scream…

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