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Cattle dead from blue algae poisoning on Des Lacs Lake

Blue algae has been confirmed as cause of death for at least 11 cows grazing on the Des Lacs Refuge.

7/23/14 (Wed)


by: Kalynn Brazeal

Blue algae has been confirmed as cause of death for at least 11 cows grazing on the Des Lacs Refuge.

The cattle were being pastured by a refuge “cooperator” north of the Lakeshore crossing on the west side of the upper Des Lacs lake, approximately 12 miles northwest of Kenmare.

Blue algae also known as cyanobacteria, typically grows in stagnant watering ponds or pools.

“These blooms are more common in North Dakota in late summer, but it only takes a few hot days to cause the overwintering organisms to become active and bloom. Blue-green algae normally can be found in many lakes and pasture watering holes in the state,” advised the Department of Agriculture - Animal Health Division. “Under certain conditions, the blue-green algae can grow into blooms and produce toxins.”

Blue algae is normally seen in hot and dry seasons where water levels are low which is why this outbreak has everyone concerned.

Death by blue algae cannot be tested for directly. A vet was on site immediately after the discovery of the dead cows to test for cause of death.

Ruling out everything else and given the physical appearance of blue green algae on the water it was safe to assume blue algae was the cause of death.

Concerned, the refuge sent off water samples from two separate areas of the Des Lacs Lake; one from north shore where the deaths occurred and another from the east shore.

Both samples were returned confirming a heavy concentration of microcystis, which is a freshwater type of blue algae.

“We have been in touch with our cooperators during this process. We feel terrible for this cooperator’s loss,” said Chad Zorn, the director of the Des Lacs Refuge office. “Prescribed grazing is critical for our environment and this could be potentially dangerous for future grazing.”

It is safe to say at this point that blue algae is throughout the refuge, according to Zorn.

The main thing is that the water at the refuge is not toxic.

The toxicity comes from ingestion of the algae itself.

The refuge is taking steps to make sure that signs are posted in swimming and access areas with information about the blue algae.

Farmers and ranchers should be aware of the situation and use caution when grazing cattle in areas where the algae is growing.