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Increasing reports of polio, blindness and toxicity in cattle are all signs that water quality has been compromised.
Hay & Forage Grower
Increasing reports of polio, blindness and toxicity in cattle are all signs that water quality has been compromised.

Drought conditions bring water quality, toxicity concerns

SD Ag Connection - July 13, 2020

STURGIS, SD - South Dakota Livestock producers are encouraged to test their water sources as poor quality water is leading to blindness in some herds.  With the expanding drought conditions across Western South Dakota, there is also water quality concerns stemming from  algae blooms on stock dams.

"Livestock water samples from northwestern South Dakota have already indicated high levels of total salts," said Robin Salverson, South Dakota State University (SDSU)  Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist.

High levels of sulfates in the water have caused polio (polioencephalomalacia) in some herds already this year, with blindness being reported. Poor quality water is not limited to northwestern South Dakota but to all of western South Dakota and possibly portions of eastern South Dakota.

"It is well documented in western South Dakota that water from wells, dams, dugouts and creeks are often high in total salts and especially sulfates regardless whether the water source is small or large or has a lot of water or a little," Salverson said. "Testing the water is the only way to know."

Poor water quality is caused by areas having little to no runoff from snow or spring rain and accelerated by hot, dry and windy conditions. Additionally, certain water sources regardless of dry or wet years, are high in total salts.

Water sources that are often assumed to be safe such as spring-fed reservoirs and water that appears to be clear can still be high in salts/sulfates. The visual appearance of water should not be used to determine if the water is good or bad. The only way to know if water is suitable for livestock is through testing.

As for algae,different species of blue-green algae contain various toxins, which can poison livestock, resulting in rapid death.

Blue-green algae will bloom when weather is hot and winds are calm. As the algae begin to die, gas is produced in the cells causing the colonies to float to the water surface. The wind blows the algae blooms to the shorelines resulting in their concentration and easy access to livestock. Identification of blue-green algae blooms in water can be difficult because the blooms appear and disappear rapidly.

"It is critical that producers be proactive and test their water sources prior to turning livestock into pastures," Salverson said.

Poor quality water will cause an animal to consume less water, as a result they will consume less forage/feed which leads to weight loss, decreased milk production and lower fertility.

Sporadic cases of polio can be seen when high levels of sulfates are present in the water. Polio can be successfully treated through the use of thiamine and anti-inflammatory injections if caught early. Contact a veterinarian to determine a treatment plan if there are concerns of potential losses due to polio.

"Be proactive and monitor your water and your livestock," Salverson said. "Just because your neighbor doesn’t have problems doesn't mean you won't."

SDSU Extension is offering an on-site quick test at all SDSU Extension Regional Centers and some SDSU Extension County Offices across South Dakota.

Phone number: 605-347-4455
E-mail: [email protected]
Address: 1612 Junction Avenue, Suite #1
Sturgis, SD 57785