Heat wave raises blue-green algae risk

Blue-green algae is toxic for livestock. | File photo

Temperatures soared across the Prairies during the last week of June, bringing with it the risk of blue-green algae in ponds and dugouts.

Blue-green algae is toxic for livestock.

Sean Osmar, manager of communications at the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency, said the temperatures haven’t changed the bloom of blue-green algae in the province. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t an issue.

“Current conditions — hot, dry, little wind — tend to be prime conditions for blue-green algae,” Osmar said. “Producers with livestock or other animals should keep them away. It can be toxic if ingested in high enough amounts. Contact can also cause irritation as well.”

He said farmers should keep an eye out for blue-green algae in their dugouts.

“If a farmer finds it in their dugouts, they should use a different source of water until conditions change. Typically, new water from rains and cooler temperatures helps flush blue-green algae and prohibit growth.”

Blue-green algae has popped up in lakes across Alberta, including Cochrane Lake and Wapasu Lake. It’s also a problem in ponds and dugouts, which are common drinking holes for cattle.

Keith Lehman, the chief provincial veterinarian of Alberta, said the heat wave could affect the growth of blue-green algae.

“For the algae to bloom it does need a few things,” he said.

“The most notable ones are high temperatures, clear skies and sunlight because they work through photosynthesis, and the last is a nutrient-rich environment.”

Shawn Cabak, a farm production extension specialist in livestock with the government of Manitoba, said with the drought across the Prairies, the water levels in dugouts are low, which can affect the growth of blue-green algae.

The Manitoba agriculture department has a program that can help producers.

“We have a program through the environmental farm plan program where producers can get assistance to develop their water sources,” Cabak said.

That might include a remote system that pumps water to livestock so they don’t drink directly from dugouts.

Lehman said blue-green algae can cause a variety of issues in livestock.

“It’s typically a neurological symptom, or problems with the liver,” he said.

“Cattle can become weak or slow, they can become unco-ordinated, and in cases where there is high exposure it can cause severe illness or death.”

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