MANHATTAN—Large amounts of blue-green algae can form in standing water. This compromised water may have deadly consequences for livestock in Kansas who depend on pond sources for drinking.
"Blue-green algae are present in every body of water and they are an important part of the ecosystem. However, in mid-summer the water can become stagnant when the rain tapers off, and that is when the algae will rapidly bloom," said Scott Fritz, toxicology resident with the Kansas State University Veterinary Diagnostic lab during a Cattle Chat podcast with the experts at the Beef Cattle Institute.
There are three types of toxic algae to look for, Fritz said. These include an algae that looks like turquoise or teal paint; layers of blue, green or orange scum that form above water level; or a substance that looks like grass clippings. Ranchers should collect water in a jar from a few inches below water level daily and send it to a laboratory.
According to Miranda Meehan, Ph.D., an extension environmental stewardship specialist at North Dakota State University, an animal can die within 20 minutes of consuming harmful algae.
"It’s so important to monitor closely," said Meehan. "Your animals are usually dead before you see an issue."
Cameras can be set up to monitor the water, Meehan said. This algae forms in stagnant ponds and lakes, not rivers.
Meehan said toxic algae forms when there is an excess of nitrogen or phosphorus in the water. To prevent this imbalance from occurring, ranchers should place beneficial grasses around the pond.
"All grasses have some type of benefit," Meehan said. "Determining the source of where the nutrients are coming from helps you figure it out."
Making sure that the land around the ponds are not overgrazed is crucial. The grass needs to be taken care of. If the grass is neither harvested nor grazed, more nitrogen will leach into the water.
An aerator, surrounded by a fence, can be placed in a pond to keep the water moving. But if the algae is present, cattle should be moved away from the water. Meehan does not recommend chemical treatment.
"Once the blooms are gone and the toxins are no longer present, it is safe to put the cows back out there provided the water is going to continue to be monitored," Fritz said.