LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV/AP) - A bacterial infection that occurs during dry conditions, called Black Leg, is being blamed for several cattle deaths in Arkansas. University of Arkansas agriculture officials said the disease has killed cattle in Sebastian, Cleveland and Lonoke Counties.
Tom Troxel, associate head of Animal Science for the University of Arkansas said Black Leg is a bacterium that lives in the soil and during drought, cattle are exposed to the deadly organism.
"It causes sudden death," he explained. "Often times cattle producers will go out and just see calves that are dead in the pasture."
Troxel added the bacteria enters the bloodstream, causing a toxic reaction. Blackleg can affect all cattle - but usually affects animals between 6-months and 2-years of age. It can cause severe lameness, fever and sudden death of a cow.
"It's due to cattle grazing shorter to the ground," he said. "They're picking up particles where the blackleg bacterium survives. With the lack of rainfall we're not seeing in pasture re-growth at all."
Troxel said the disease can be devastating to farmers who rely on healthy cattle for their livelihood. While the disease is deadly, it's easily preventable
"The value of a calf is about $700. So, if they have 2 or 3 calves die of blackleg. The cost of the loss of the calve adds up very quickly. The vaccination is very effective. If they have not vaccinated their cattle for blackleg, now is the time to do so to protect their cattle."
And Troxel said cattle producers can do that for a fairly minimal cost.
"One loss of a calf will pay for enough vaccine to vaccinate the average herd in Arkansas for 12.5."
The latest US Drought Monitor shows all but northeastern Arkansas in drought or abnormally dry conditions.
Troxel says even though the disease is hurtful to cattle producers, we shouldn't expect any rise in meat prices, and for meat consumers there's no need to worry about the bacteria showing up on grocery store shelves.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)