Ten Cattle Killed on East Kootenay Range After Eating Toxic Plants

(Photo: Bradley Jones)

Ten cattle have been killed on the range so far this season in the Cranbrook and Kimberley area after consuming two native plants common to the region, spurring warnings to ranchers.

Larkspur and Death Camas are considered native plants to the area but are specifically toxic to livestock when consumed in large amounts.

"This kind of caught everybody by surprise," said Morgan Dilts, President of the Kootenay Livestock Association. "Nobody's ever had it of this magnitude before, there's been other deaths from different weeds in the past but I don't know of any one time of a farm losing five in just a matter of a couple days."

"None of the operations in our area are extremely huge as far as numbers-wise and so it's a fairly big profit loss when that happens."

Dilts said the toxicology reports from the cattle confirmed the presence of Larkspur and Death Camas and were cited as the cause of death for all ten cattle. Two ranchers were affected, as each rancher lost five head of cattle as a result of the toxic plants.

Although a native plant that isn't managed by the East Kootenay Invasive Species Council (EKISC), Todd Larsen, Program Manager with EKISC told Summit 107 that both plants are common and that their toxicity varies every year.

"They're found throughout the East Kootenay region and they are known to be toxic to livestock. The way they grow is cyclical and there's certain reasons we're seeing more of them this year, it could be the wet spring or just bumper crops from past years."

Dilts said the Kootenay Livestock Association is looking to work with EKISC and the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development's (FLNRORD) Range Department to look at options for alleviating any further stresses for ranchers when these types of incidents happen in the future. Dilts said if ranchers are able to get a permit to access and graze their cattle on the range, it frees up their own pastures for the growth of winter feed, but with the issues on the range, that puts those plans at jeopardy.

"The only option if you're range is causing this type of problem is either move pastures - if you have that option - or bring the cattle home," Dilts told Summit 107. "Most of the ranchers in the Kootenays graze their cattle on their fields that they grow the hay on throughout the winter for the winter use, and so if you have your cattle home, now you don't grow hay."

Shawna Larade, Range Officer in the Rocky Mountain District for the Ministry of FLNRORD said the highest toxicity concentration for the two native plants is during their flowering period.

Larsen echoed Larade's sentiments to say that cattle are specifically attracted to plants like Larkspur and Death Camas, which makes them especially dangerous if they flower early and are left in the range or local pastures without a variety of other food options.

"These plants, some of them do have high protein contents and are digestible so the cattle are selectively choosing them," said Larsen. "As long as they're not solely foraging on these plants, they should be okay, but it's important that the cattle do have options to eat other species that are not toxic."

Managing the range and the permitting for ranchers to gain access to the Crown land, Larade said they want ranchers to be informed about the potential risks of the plants and exercise discretion before turning their cattle onto the open range.

"The best thing is to look at best practices, ensure that the grass growth and range readiness have been met, delay turnouts until after Larkspur has flowered and monitor the range and changes in the plant community dynamics."

"The further risk in this growing season to poisonings from Larkspur is very low and minimal," added Larade. "Larkspur is nearly finished flowering, the grasses are developing, which offsets the diet of the cattle."

The Kootenay Livestock Association takes the position that they would like to develop a contingency plan with Larade and the Ministry's Range Department. Dilts said that if such an event happens again where multiple cattle are killed, he would like to see an option for ranchers to potentially move their cattle to another vacant range depending on the Ministry's decision.

Wanting to work with ranchers and help provide educational and informative information, Larade told Summit 107 that it is ultimately the rancher's responsibility to manage their own cattle.

"The ranchers have flexibility on when they turn their cattle out onto the range and when and where they do that based on their designated area and we're more than happy to be there for support if they have questions or concerns to go out. This year we have done that, gone out where we've seen a prevalence of Larkspur and tried to come up with other options for their turn-out pasture, yet the discretion does lie with the rancher."

Larade told Summit 107 that any rancher or range stakeholder that has further questions or concerns about the flowering Larkspur and Death Camas can reach her at 250-426-1766 to further discuss the topic.

- Bradley Jones

Larkspur (Left) and Death Camas (Right) (Photo Courtesy: Shawna Larade, Range Officer)

Audio: Morgan Dilts, Kootenay Livestock Association President

Audio: Todd Larsen, East Kootenay Invasive Species Council (EKISC) Program Manager

Audio: Shawna Larade, Range Officer with BC Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations, and Rural Development

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