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Avoiding Lead Poisoning in Cattle Entering The Food Chain

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Avoiding Lead Poisoning in Cattle Entering The Food Chain

Avoiding Lead Poisoning in Cattle Entering The Food Chain
June 04
11:19 2018

CIS Excellence Independent Hotel of the Year co-sponsor, Bruce Stevenson Insurance, has compiled a library of articles in an effort to shed light on Scotland’s constantly evolving farming sector. Entitled Farming Insights, these features aim to examine issues affecting Scottish farmers and their land, livestock and livelihoods.

In this, the first in a series, Jean Arnott-Glennie focuses on the dangerous threat of lead poisoning in cattle…

Food legislation prohibits dairy, meat and offal from entering the food chain if increased levels of lead are detected. When cattle are turned out of their winter housing onto grass pasture in springtime, there can be an increase in cases of lead poisoning, often involving younger cows who are naturally inquisitive of their new surroundings.

Since 2015 there have been 47 instances of animal death as a direct result of lead poisoning, all of which could have been avoided. Additionally, there is minimum 16-week restriction placed on all animals entering the food chain, resulting in extra feeding costs, loss of condition and the impact on the business’s cash flow.

With that in mind, we thought it prudent to point out some of the causes, signs, symptoms and avoidance techniques to help operators keep livestock from being exposed to in the first place.

What can cause lead poisoning?

  • Seepage from burnt-out cars and abandoned machinery
  • Vehicle batteries or batteries used for electric fencing
  • Bonfire ash
  • Flaky lead paint on buildings
  • Lead shot from shoots.
  • Piping and flashing left in an accessible location

What effect can this have on the livestock?

  • Sudden fatality
  • Infertility in breeding stock
  • Blindness
  • Nervous diseases

As well as the loss of the animal, there are other impacts to be considered, including:

  • Slower animal growth and loss of market value
  • Decreased production of milk
  • Birth abnormalities and defects in the progeny due to exposure to lead by the parent stock
  • Associated fatality costs such as disposal and veterinary fees

How can lead contamination be avoided?

  • Ensure that there is no lead paint on buildings in the vicinity of livestock. Endeavour to replace paint where you can with non-leaded paint but in the meantime, ensure it is cordoned off.
  • Check fields before livestock are turned out to verify that there are no discarded vehicle batteries discarded and no fly-tipping, burnt-out cars or other items containing lead, such as piping or flashing.

If you come across livestock that may have been affected by lead poisoning, you should:

  • Remove the cause and restrict access
  • Move livestock to a different location/pasture
  • Contact your vet for advice. Tests for lead are not expensive and can be arranged via your Vets and SAC.

Bruce Stevenson Insurance Brokers provides a variety of specialist policies for the farming community. Visit for more information.

See the results of the 2018 CIS Excellence Awards here.

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Catering Scotland

Catering Scotland

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