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Blue-green algae affecting area livestock farmers

With extreme heat that hailed the end of July in West Virginia coupled with the heavy runoff from rains put many of the state’s waterways at risk to a waterborne toxin that could impact livestock and other animals around the farm.

“Kansas State University veterinary toxicologist Steve Ensley said that the incidence of blue-green algae in farm ponds “has become more frequent in the last 15-20 years,” creating headaches for farmers who rely on those ponds to keep livestock hydrated during the hot, summer months,” according to K-State Research and Extension

When blue-green algae blooms, it creates a toxin that can affect the liver or the nervous system of animals that drink contaminated water. Animals may recover from toxins that affect the liver, but when they ingest toxins affecting the nervous system, those animals often die — sometimes within hours.

There is no antidote, only supportive care can be given to those animals with liver damage and depending on the amount of liver damage can survive. However, the neurotoxin is very acute, meaning that once affecting the nervous system, nothing can be done.

Blue-green algae can form in a pond or other waterway from runoff that carries nitrogen or phosphorus into the body of water. The algae grow and bloom as temperatures reach 75 degrees or higher.

“Farmers and others should be on the lookout for a blue, green or even orange color in the water. The bacteria will often give the impression of paint in the water, or a growth mat. Blue-green algae is a threat to surface water only; it does not affect ground water. Well water typically is not affected,” according to K-State Research and Extension

Farmers should minimize animals in and around ponds and water sources, excluding excess nutrient runoff into these water bodies. Installing a buffer strip, or perennial vegetation between the fields and the pond to help “catch” runoff before it can enter the water. If you suspect blue-green algae, contact the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct of water test. It takes about two weeks for the toxin to dissipate, so get the animals off that water until you know the status of the test.

“Some short-term solutions to prevent algae blooms include installing solar-powered aerators to keep water moving; or adding water soluble dyes to the water, which block the amount of sunlight that can get to the pond,” according to Kansas State Research and Extension. “Blue-green algae isn’t a true alga, it’s a cyanobacteria. When the algae if under favorable environmental conditions can produce this toxin. This toxin is produced when damage occurs to the cell of the organism, either by death or the acid environment of the animals’ stomach. By eliminating nutrient runoff, especially Nitrogen and Phosphorus, into waterways we can avoid these types of events. We can fence the area out and direct water to troughs for use or create/plant buffer strips to filter some runoff” says Jody Carpenter, WVU Extension Agent.

“Sometimes education comes at the detriment of others, it’s unfortunate this is happening in our area, but we need to take action and minimize it from happening again and we can achieve this by using best management practices on the farm” stated Jody Carpenter

If you have any other questions about blue-green algae, contact your local veterinarian or extension agent. The Barbour County Extension Office can be reached at 304-457-3254.

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