Story at a glance:

  • A growing number of researchers are studying how wildfire smoke affects cows.
  • Among other changes, cows exposed to poor air quality produced less milk.
  • One researcher calls them “smoke cows.”

 

Cattle exposed to wildfire smoke and heat stress produced less milk, experienced changes in their immune cells, showed signs of inflammation, and were at an increased risk of disease and mortality, according to preliminary research from the University of Idaho.

Amy Skibiel, along with Pedram Rezamand, at the U of I College of Agricultural and Life Sciences is spearheading one of the few studies on how wildfires threaten livestock and animals. 


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“We’re just starting to uncover the effects in humans, so livestock and other animal species have taken a back seat to that,” said Ashly Anderson, an animal science graduate student working with the professors. “We haven’t really begun to look at the effects in livestock. It’s not just dairy cattle that there aren’t results. Most animal species don’t have quantified effects of smoke exposure.”

So far, the team of researchers has monitored 28 dairy cattle during 2020’s fire season from July to September. They took blood samples before, after and during the cows’ exposure to wildfire smoke, and also monitored gestational effects on calves. 

Among their findings, the researchers discovered that cows produced about three pounds a day less milk during that time, according to The Atlantic. 

“Due to climate change and global conditions, we’re going to be seeing a lot more wildfires and because of that there are going to be a lot more people and animals exposed to wildfires,” Anderson said. “Being able to tell what kind of effects there are and how we might be affected in the future is very important.”

Oregon State University is also joining the small but growing group of researchers focusing on wildfire smoke and cattle. 

Juliana Ranches, a livestock researcher, and her colleague Jenifer Cruickshank are conducting a 3-year study of 30 cows exposed to poor air quality, The Guardian reports. 

“I call them my smoke cows,” Cruickshank told the outlet.

The team is taking milk and blood samples from the cows when a wildfire event causes the air quality index to measure over 50. They also document the cows’ respiratory rate and body temperatures, according to The Guardian. 

“We’re getting a finer-grained picture of what these cows are experiencing, through poor air quality associated with wildfires – a better understanding of the physiological effects on them, like is it mild? Is it severe? Is there diversity among the response in the cows? With that information, we can start to look at the negative effects and minimise the damage,” she said.


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Published on Sep 23, 2021