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Animals fared well through thick wildfire smoke: Grand Forks vet, producers

But bees suffered and honey production is likely down
Wendy Price, owner of WP Performance Horses in Grand Forks, says the heavy wildfire smoke put a damper on training and exercise, but the animals haven’t suffered any smoke-related illnesses. Photo: Karen McKinley

The thick wildfire smoke that blanketed Grand Forks and the rest of the Boundary Region hasn’t had much of an adverse effect on livestock that spends most of their time outdoors, but there has been an impact to bees and honey production.

While most animals in the region’s agricultural and equestrian sectors have to stay outside for most of their time, people who make a living caring for them say the smoke wasn’t an issue.

Precautions were taken, however.

At WP Performance Horses, owner and head trainer Wendy Price said she and all horse owners and leasers kept physical activity to a minimum and monitored their health.

“We had a few coughing, which would be normal under these conditions,” she said. “Otherwise, we kept them as still as possible. They were grazing in the pasture, spending time in their paddocks and people generally didn’t ride much. Too much exertion isn’t good for humans or horses in these conditions.”

While the horses in her care were fine, Price explained it’s usually recommended to keep animals indoors, such as a barn, to minimize smoke exposure, but that isn’t an option for herself or a lot of livestock owners in this region.

It’s the same at Mehmal Farms, where cattle did as little physical activity as possible. They have 200 acres to roam on and higher plains, and none of their livestock have shown serious negative effects from the smoke, said farm co-owner Leanna Mehmal.

“We didn’t move them around much so they wouldn’t be stressed out,” she said. “Sometimes when it’s really bad they will cough a little, but most of the time we let them roam and if they were in the wrong pasture, we left them alone.”

Dr. Ruth Sims, large and small animal veterinarian at Kettle River Veterinary Services, said she didn’t receive any calls for animals having trouble breathing or other adverse effects from the smoke.

“Wild animals are likely not doing well in this, but from what I’ve seen, livestock are doing OK,” she said. “There haven’t been many studies on how wildfire smoke affects animals, though, but my observation is most are doing well and the exposure wasn’t for very long.”

While large animals were not adversely affected, some of the tiniest producers have been. Angie Morris, owner of Kettle Kountry Farm in Christian Valley, said smoke slowed down honey bees in her apiaries to the point where they were not leaving their hives.

“To harvest honey we use smoke to slow them down, but when there is smoke in the air already, they don’t fly,”she said. “When they stay in the hive, they are feeding on their honey supplies and the rule of thumb is once they start feeding on their supply, you cannot take anything because they need enough food to survive the winter.”

This means her honey crop will be lower, but Morris said the bees need to be protected.

The smoke likely affected pollination, but Morris pointed out it was already a sporadic year from a very hot spring, which caused early blooming, then temperatures dropped, then rose again.

The bottom line is that smoky weather hurts bees more than animals, she said. Animals can keep grazing and their feed is augmented, but if bees cannot fly, they need to be fed sugar water solutions to prevent starvation, but they won’t produce honey because they need plant nectar.

Morris said as a solution she’d like to see people living on acreages and farms keeping one hive. That way they can have their own supply and in the long run help protect local bee populations.

About the Author: Karen McKinley

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