Massive and devastating forest fires. This is what climate change has brought the whole world and what has been seen in recent days in Zamora, Catalonia, Navarra, the Basque Country or Aragon. A fire affects everything around it: biodiversity, farmland, human health and even cows. And toxic compounds that pollute the air during wildfires can alter the milk production of these ruminants. By inhaling the smoke, they see that their milk production is reduced by 30%.
This was confirmed in a study published by a group of researchers from the University of Idaho (United States). Journal of Dairy Science, where they try to shed light on the side effects of these great fires beyond what is known.
“Smoke from wildfires causes exposure to far more harmful compounds than those found in pollution in cities,” explains lead researcher Amy L. Skibiel.
That big gray cumulus from forest burning contains the smallest particles known, PM2.5 They get their name from their small size of 2.5 microns. They have rapid access to the bronchioles and the ability to settle in the lungs. This was already known because a study published in the journal Nature Communicationforest fires”increased potential to cause inflammation and oxidative stress in the lung“more than the pollution caused by urban emissions.
“Fine particles can be inhaled deep into the alveolar spaces of the lungs, where they can induce inflammation, inhibit lung function, and be absorbed into the circulation,” explains Skibiel. But until now, no one had tried to measure what happened to the cattle.
Between July and December 2020, the East Coast of the United States experienced one of the most dramatic episodes in its history. Drought and high temperatures fires burning 2.6 million acres almost simultaneously in several states (California, Oregon, and Washington), they destroyed thousands of buildings and killed at least 40 people. Nearby, in the state of Idaho, a group of Holstein cows were grazing, unaware of what was happening just a few miles away.
Less milk in cows for a week
Although far from threatening fires, cows affected by heavy smoke from other states exposed to poor quality air. For seven consecutive days in mid-September, the cows were exposed to small but toxic particles from wildfires at levels 10 to 23 times higher than the US Environmental Protection Agency’s recommendations.
During that week the cows gave less milk. A condition lasting seven days after exposure. The researchers concluded that these metabolic changes were the result of higher temperature, more humidity, and a rarefied atmosphere due to the presence of these toxic substances. This perfect cocktail of unforeseen conditions caused a change in the behavior of cows’ protein and fat, as well as immune shields.
The main factor leading to this disorder of the bovine organism can be stress; however, the research team acknowledges that more research is needed to understand the causes and consequences of electrolyte imbalance from exposure to fine particles. These metabolic changes caused the cows to produce 30% less milk.
Alongside animal welfare, the findings of this research group highlight the important problems the livestock industry may face if measures are not taken to reduce the impact of fires.
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