University of Saskatchewan scientists investigating effects of sulphates on cattle health

Research: News Roundup from the March 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen

University of Saskatchewan researchers are studying the effects of high sulphate levels in the drinking water of cattle.

When cattle drink water with high sulphate levels, the sulphates bind trace minerals in the animals’ rumens, preventing them from absorbing necessary minerals. Potential effects include diarrhea, reduced fertility and milk production, slow growth, a depressed immune system and polio. High sulphate levels contributed to the death of 200 cattle near Shamrock, Sask., in the summer of 2017.

While there’s anecdotal evidence regarding water quality, there isn’t science to support recommendations, said Leah Clark, a provincial livestock and feed extension specialist, in a press release.

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The research, conducted at the Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence’s new metabolism barn near Clavet, involves testing sulphate concentrations at zero, 1,000, 2,000 and 3,000 ppm., Dr. Greg Penner explained via email. Penner is a University of Saskatchewan associate professor and researcher. Four groups consisting of eight heifers will drink water with the varying sulphate levels while in the barn.

“While we call it a ‘barn,’ this really is a lab, not a barn,” Penner said in a release. Researchers will be able to measure feed and water intake and body weight of individual animals housed in each stall. The stalls also make collecting blood, fecal and urine samples easier for those working with the animals and for the animals themselves.

The sulphate research project is funded under the new Strategic Field Program through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP), a federal-provincial initiative, at a cost of $82,900. Saskatchewan Agriculture has contracted Penner to conduct the research. Results will be released after the project wraps on June 1.

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