Watch for Harmful Algae This Summer

5 Steps to Take if Livestock Exposed to Harmful Algal Blooms in Water

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Harmful algal blooms (HAB) can produce toxins called cyanobacteria that are harmful to people, livestock and pets. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Producers whose livestock have access to ponds or other bodies of water should be on the lookout for harmful algal blooms (HAB) during the summer months, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. HABs can produce toxins that are harmful to humans, livestock, working animals and pets.

Harmful algal blooms are usually caused by rapid growth of blue-green algae, known as cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria are naturally found in water bodies and cannot be eradicated, according to the NRCS website (…). These blooms and their potential toxicity often are a result of excess nutrients in water bodies.

Nutrient sources can be excess fertilizer, livestock waste and even leaky septic systems. These blooms form in the summer when warm, nutrient-rich, stagnant waters and more frequent sunlight increase the chance for their growth.

Many different symptoms of cyanobacteria exposure can be seen in animals. These include vomiting, excessive salivation, fatigue, staggered walking, difficulty breathing, weakness, convulsions and liver failure.

In severe cases, cyanobacteria poisoning can even lead to death in animals.

If HABs or cyanobacteria have been detected in a water body, producers should prevent further exposure by restricting access to the water, according to NRCS. This is key to ensuring the health and well-being of people, livestock, working animals and pets on the farm.

NCRS states there are five main steps you can take if potential exposure to cyanobacteria by livestock has occurred:

-- Step 1: Wash Animals.

Animals exposed to the toxins should be washed with clean water. Monitor these animals for exposure. Isolate animals who exhibit symptoms, and seek veterinary care as soon as possible.

-- Step 2: Provide an alternative water source.

An alternative source of livestock drinking water might be needed. NRCS has several conservation practices that might be useful, including different water well and water facilities designs.

-- Step 3: Get help with water testing.

Contact the appropriate state agency for sampling and testing guidance to test the water source for HABs and cyanobacteria. NRCS said it is not safe for landowners to sample water themselves without proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and sampling procedures.

-- Step 4: Monitor the water source.

If a water source has the toxin, there is always a possibility for recurrence. Infected water sources should continue to be monitored.

-- Step 5: Adopt conservation practices to reduce risk of exposure.

NRCS suggests landowners adopt conservation practices that reduce the risk of livestock exposure to HABs. This will prevent and reduce nutrient loading to water to minimize the risk of future HABs occurrences.

There are several fencing, pond and water source designs available to landowners to ensure their livestock are protected from this toxin, according to NRCS.

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Russ Quinn