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First case of anthrax in B.C. kills bison

First case of anthrax in B.C. kills bison

The producers lost about 17 animals

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

Producers near Fort. St. John, B.C. are hoping to learn how 17 of their bison ingested the anthrax spores that ultimately killed them.

A hay shortage forced the farmers to feed their livestock a different fescue source than they had used before.

“We purchased fescue hay but didn’t realize it was a variety of creeping red fescue called Aberdeen," the affected producer, who wished to remain anonymous, told “After the loss of our animals, we found out Aberdeen fescue is bred for golf courses and is high in endophytes to help manage pests and rodents.”

But “high levels of endophytes can be harmful to livestock,” Alberta Agriculture says.

The producers discovered the first dead bison on Oct. 10 but didn’t relate its death to the feed. They found another 14 deceased bison on Oct. 15 and one more on Oct. 18.

The last bison died on Oct. 21. It managed to return to the area containing the Aberdeen fescue feed. The timeline of the deaths of the bison correlated completely with the feeding of that hay, the producer said.

The producers’ herd is about 200-head. 

All the losses were brood cows, some nursing and some not, except for two two-year-old bulls.  No mature herd sires, yearlings or calves succumbed or showed any effect, which is unusual, the producer said.

They hired a veterinarian to conduct autopsies on two of the bison, and the results came back positive for anthrax. The positive tests mark the first cases of anthrax in the province.

Now, the producer wants to confirm the source of the anthrax.

“The deaths started and stopped with the new feed,” they said. “It is worth testing to know if the anthrax came from the hay or if it came from the soil in some other part of the pasture.

“We feel testing the feed as a possible source for the anthrax spores is important because feed from the same field is distributed around the country to several different farms. Farmers with the feed from the same source stored on their farms wouldn't know if their farms were infected or not. 

“Also, when it comes to getting rid of the remaining 100 bales on our ranch, we need to know if we can just move them and burn them because they are not meant to be a livestock feed, or will it take great caution in disposing of them if they are infected with anthrax spores so as not to spread the spores.  We can't burn them where they are next to our other winter feed."

The producer estimates the animal losses are around $50,000. The remainder of the herd is appearing healthy and received vaccinations over the weekend.


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