Warning farmers of the dangers of lead poisoning

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Farmers are urged to be vigilant this spring and help protect livestock from the deadly consequences of lead poisoning.

Material discarded around farmland, including car batteries and electric fences, or ash from where lead was burned, can be fatal to animals if ingested.

Young livestock, which are turning to the field for the first time at this time of year, are particularly vulnerable because of their inquisitive nature in new surroundings.

Poisoning can have a knock-on effect on the food chain, resulting in contamination of meat, offal, and milk that becomes unsafe and illegal for sale.

Food Standards Stewart McAdam Scotland
Food Standards Stewart McAdam Scotland

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) is working to boost safety messages on the farm, with Stuart McAdam, the organisation’s head of accidents, saying lead poisoning can have a devastating effect on farmers and can put consumers at risk.

“Lead is a highly toxic metal that can cause slow or stunted growth, blindness, infertility, birth defects and death,” added Mr. McAdam.

Not only are the health effects of stock distress, but there are also financial implications such as veterinary fees, disposal of carcasses, and loss of market value.

“We know that farmers are very serious about the health and well-being of the animals in their care, however, as incidents of lead poisoning often peak in the spring when livestock are put out to pasture, we are re-launching our on-farm accident prevention campaign.

Lead batteries, old paint, ash from fires, and the hearts of flies are the leading causes of lead poisoning.

“Prevention is the best strategy and checking the field regularly and removing animals’ access to these sources are the first steps to preventing these incidents.”

The misery of losing livestock to poisoning is all too familiar to Newmacher farmer Grant Jolly.

During the month of July last year, three of Mr. Jolly’s cattle fell ill with the vet quickly identifying symptoms of lead poisoning.

These symptoms can include animals becoming sluggish and wobbly, teeth grinding, blindness and bloating.

After a cattle died, a survey of the farm found an old battery that was thought to be the likely source.

Mr. Jolly has called on farmers to search their lands for old batteries before their cattle are driven out this spring to prevent unnecessary suffering.

He added: “Losing one of my cattle in this way was a nightmare and resulted in huge financial costs.

“The battery that was found was very old and only a small part of it was sticking out of the ground.

“Fortunately, I found her.”

Vet Graham Fowlie, of Meadows Vets, Oldmeldrum, says cases of lead poisoning “almost always” happen around the turn of spring when young cattle are sent out.

For the injured animal and the farmer, it is a traumatic period.

“The fast-onset blindness means that cattle end up drowning in ditches and getting stuck in fences,” Mr. Foley said.

Once the animals develop symptoms, death quickly follows.

“It’s rather painful stuff.”

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