Burmuda Grass Strain Off-Gassing Cyanide

by jim on June 25, 2012

Not many stories can startle you these days. But this one will. It's right out of one of those cheesy mid-70's eco-themed diatribes where Mother Nature finally gets her revenge for all the abuses heaped on her by humankind.

Only this isn't a movie. It's real: a hybrid strain of Bermuda grass hypernized strain used in pastures across the Southwest is off-gassing cyanide and killing cattle in Elgin, Texas.

"When our trainer first heard the bellowing, he thought our pregnant heifer may be having a calf or something," said Abel. "But when he got down here, virtually all of the steers and heifers were on the ground. Some were already dead, and the others were already in convulsions."

Within hours, 15 of the 18 cattle were dead.

"That was very traumatic to see, because there was nothing you could do, obviously, they were dying," said Abel.

The exact cause is unknown, but the source is not. It's a commonly used strain of Bermuda grass called Tifton 85 that's been around for 15 years. But it hasn't gone through a record-breaking drought, and some scientists think the stress might have had unforeseen consequences.

"Coming off the drought that we had the last two years … we're concerned it was a combination of events that led us to this," Dr. Gary Warner, an Elgin veterinarian and cattle specialist who conducted the 15 necropsies, told Kelly.

What is more worrisome: Other farmers have tested their Tifton 85 grass, and several in Bastrop County have found their fields are also toxic with cyanide. However, no other cattle have died.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are dissecting the grass to determine if there might have been some strange, unexpected mutation.

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