HARRIS, Sask. — Bill Laing has never seen anything like it in his 40 years of farming.
“It’s just something that doesn’t happen,” he said.
A pile of treated canola seed that he discovered lying on the ground in a pasture Oct. 24 killed his Black Angus bull and two pregnant Charolais cows.
“When I was driving out of the pasture, I could see some blue stuff by the gate in a low spot,” said Laing, who has a commercial cow-calf operation northwest of Harris.
“Here’s about 15 to 20 bushels of blue canola. Who the hell would dump that in there?”
He said parts of the pasture used to be quarried for gravel but that operation has long been closed.
“It’s private land and they’re not supposed to be driving in there,” he said. “The person who dumped there knew this spot.”
Neighbour Dwein Trask owns the land and cows, and the bull belongs to Laing, who’s been managing the herd for Trask.
He said the cows are valued at $2,000 each and the bull at $5,000, but there is no insurance.
Laing said he cut open the stomach of one of the dead cows on the day he found them and saw “piles of canola inside,” which a local veterinarian confirmed soon after as the cause of death for all three animals.
Laing said it would have been a relatively fast death.
“It was both the treatment and the canola that killed them,” he said.
“The insecticide will kill them quick, but if they ate straight canola without the treated, that will kill them, too.”
Treated canola is deliberately coloured blue as a safety precaution for farmers.
Laing estimated that 15 to 20 bushels of canola were dumped, which is expensive as well as a substantial amount.
“Not the small farmer, I’ll tell you.… That’s a lot of canola,” he said.
“That’s enough to seed 200 acres.”
Laing has notified most of his neighbours and found a consistent reaction.
“All the farmers around here know the value of canola, and they can’t think why anybody would do it,” he said.
“If it was really old canola, they would definitely just bury it in their own land, not somebody else’s where cattle can roam.”
Dave Sparks, who works for Cargill and owns a neighbouring pasture, saw a sample of the canola and believes it may be still good.
“I can’t believe someone would throw that much money away,” he said.
Sparks thinks the canola may have been discarded because it was either contaminated with gravel or it is an old variety that someone didn’t want to grow.
However, tracing it back to the owner will be next to impossible, he added.
“I phoned different labs and they can’t do a DNA test to figure out what variety it is. They can check to see if it’s Liberty Link or Roundup Ready or if it’s neither, but that’s as close as they can get,” he said.
“You’d think they could go do something better with it, which makes me think it’s an old variety that’s just not worth growing anymore. I don’t know.… Somebody screwed up.”
RCMP investigated but have since closed the file for lack of leads or further evidence, Laing said.
Old tractor tires, fence posts and wire now cover the area where the canola was discarded, which is also covered in snow.
As well, Laing has since brought the remaining herd of 28 cows and calves home to his yard for the winter and is keeping a close eye for signs of poisoning.
“The vet said this could linger on. The other ones could have liver damage in the wintertime and die. And they can abort any time right now, too,” he said. “Only time will tell.”