Mystery Deaths of Cattle Linked to Bermuda Grass

B. McPherson

The deaths of 15 head of cattle in Texas touched off a firestorm of rumour and speculation, but it seems that the cause was a convergence of conditions creating a deadly result. Roping Corriente calves were turned out on a field of Trifton 85 Bermuda grass. They promptly died of what has turned out to be cyanide poisoning(prussic acid poisoning). Speculation circulated that the Trifton 85 was a genetically altered organism but that is not the case. This variety of Bermuda grass is the result of careful breeding and the forage crop has been used successfully since 1992 without any reported fatalities.

The US Department of Agriculture is investigating whether this particular field and neighbouring fields that have tested high in prussic acid have undergone mutations. A variety of grass in the ancestry of Trifton 85, stargrass, is known to be able to produce prussic acid under some conditions.

There have been some suggestions as to what has prompted the deaths of the cattle. The Sky Valley Cronicle  has some detailed suggestions to reduce risk to stock.

1.      While the Bermuda grass was bred to be drought resistant, the Texas drought last year stressed even this resistant variety.
2.       The young cattle were stressed from a roping session – tired, hungry, thirsty. Give the stock hay and water before turning onto fresh forage.
3.       The field was lush with new growth and had not been cut for hay or grazed this season. Don’t turn stock onto a lush field and allow them to fill up. Turn them into a cut enclosure instead.

While GM foods may contribute their own worries to the aware, it seems that we cannot tag the genetic engineers with this one. This one belongs to Mother Nature herself.

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