MAGIC VALEY — Wildfires have a significant impact on land and agriculture, but there's not much data when it comes to the impacts these events have on dairy cattle.
This is why a group of professors and some students at the University of Idaho decided to see what wildfires do to dairy cattle.
“This is becoming a concern for public health obviously. Wildfires are increasing in size, severity and even frequency and experts predict that’s going to continue as well,” said Amy Skibiel, assistant professor of lactation physiology at University of Idaho.
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A combination of the number of wildfires in the region and Idaho being one of the top five dairy producers in the country is what drove the researchers to want to know the impacts these wildfires have on cows.
“What we found was that across these three farms when wildfire associated particulate matter was high in the atmosphere there was an increased risk of cow disease and mortality as well as calf disease and mortality," Skibiel said.
The study, conducted during last year's wildfire season, found wildfire smoke also impacts the amount of milk a cow produces.
“This is becoming a concern for public health obviously. Wildfires are increasing in size, severity and even frequency and experts predict that’s going to continue as well," Skibiel said.
“They are producing about three pounds less milk per cow per day during that event, relative to beforehand when ambient particulate matter is relatively low," Skibiel said.
Researchers also found during a wildfire calves stand for a longer period of time, but the reason for that is still unclear.
"We thought maybe they were drinking more water because it was hot and because of the smoke but when we look at markers of hydration status we don't see any changes before during or after wildfire smoke exposure," Skibiel said.
The other factor they thought contributed to the calves standing for long periods was a fight or flight response to the wildfire events.
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“Another plausible hypothesis is that this is an evolutionary ingrained response to flee from a site with poor air quality," Skibiel said.
The study is still in the preliminary stages and those involved are planning to continue their efforts for the next three to five years. They say their goal is to provide strategies to producers to prevent the negative impacts wildfires have on dairy cattle.
“The ultimate goal is really to understand how wildfire smoke is impacting dairy cows and ultimately allowing us to develop some type of management or mitigation strategies that we can purpose to producers to help mitigate some of these negative impacts on cows," Skibiel said.