An Old Problem but a new threat : Rising Sun Stables
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An Old Problem but a new threat

by Karen Tharp on 07/10/11

Having just moved to Oklahoma I’m learning about all the new risks to our horses.  One risk I learned of this last week was the threat of Blister Beetle Poisoning.  I have found through research that the Blister Beetle is one of the most venomous insect that cannot sting.  They are only dangerous in they are ingested or touched. There are a few caterpillars in this category and two groups of beetle, but the most venomous is the Blister Beetle.

There are around 2000 species of blister beetle worldwide, and when they occur in large numbers they can cause a large problem for livestock. The Blister Beetle produces a toxin called Cantharid in, a chemical that cause blistering on the skin and if eaten also inside the intestine tissue. These beetles live in grass and hay, the natural food source source for many animals and when they are eaten by these grazers, it can cause them serious harm. A cow or horse need only eat 10 or so beetles accidentally to become seriously ill, and this is likely to kill the animal.

Alfalfa and hay growers don't often see the need to treat for blister beetles in their crops.  It's not economically feasible when they can sell untreated hay to customers who don't fear the beetles' toxin. Horse owners and the people who sell hay have to find hay grown farther from home each year.

Many experts say “Oklahoma is full of blister beetles and now Kansas is getting them too.  “Many have to go farther north to get hay.”  Through my research I have found that many growers think it's the other guy's problem.  My growing fear is when it hits home, that's when they'll wake up.”

In Arkansas, blister beetles have been known to defoliate whole fields. That's the only time growers find that spraying pays.  All horse owners and alfalfa growers should be concerned about blister beetle.  My research has showed me that Just about every state has problems with blister beetles at some time or another.  No one is immune to the problem.


Here are six ways buyers and growers can avoid the pest:

  1. When buying hay for horses, find out when it was cut. Purchasing first or last cutting hay, at least here in Oklahoma, is relatively safe. They have never spotted the blister beetle in Oklahoma before late April or even early May, and most first cutting is done in April. Final cuttings are made in early October, after adult beetles die.
  2. Reduce weed problems. The fewer flowers to attract beetles, the fewer beetles there will be.
  3. Cut at bud stage rather than first bloom, again to keep from attracting beetles.
  4. Cut alfalfa with a sickle bar and don't condition it. Driving on windrows can kill blister beetles, too, and the toxin will end up in bales. Live beetles migrate out of cut hay.
  5. Watch grasshopper populations. Immature blister beetles feed on grasshopper eggs, so large numbers of grasshoppers could be followed by blister beetles.
  6. Growers and buyers should work together to reduce blister beetle risks.

If you hope to buy blister beetle-free hay, then you better come across with some help to guarantee that the hay is blister beetle-free. Say you want to purchase some summer cuttings that might be higher in protein, but you don't want to run the risk of blister beetles. Then pay for the treatment. Or meet the grower halfway. Or give him a premium when he sells that hay to you.

Safety cost money, nothing is free.  If I come across anymore issues that concern me I will do a Blog on it.  I feel if I’m concerned then there has to be others that are concerned to. 

Please continue the prayers for rain, I know Oklahoma and much of Kansas needs it.  Hope everyone has had a safe and joy filled weekend.  God Bless.


Comments (1)

1. Karen Langworthy said on 7/11/11 - 04:03PM
Thank You for doing the BLOG! I'm such a lucky lady to be loved by you. Wish my family loved me like you do(not meaning Shayne either) By the way your Blog is great!

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