Cattle Deaths Prompt Slurry Warning

SCOTLAND, UK - The unusual circumstances causing the recent death of four cattle from toxic gas produced from a slurry store has caused SAC to issue a special hazard warning to farmers. While the danger posed by stored slurry has been well documented and is well understood by farmers, the unusual events that led to the fatalities are worth highlighting.
calendar icon 20 February 2012
clock icon 2 minute read

During a recent dry spell a Scottish beef producer in the Scottish Borders took advantage of the conditions to begin emptying some of the slurry stored under the slatted floors of his beef sheds. Having taken out just two or three loads he returned to find four large steers dead. They had been suffocated by hydrogen sulphide gas.

It is well known that mixing and handling slurry can produce this toxic gas, which is invisible, although it smells like rotten eggs. In a confined area it rapidly kills both cattle and humans by suffocation. It is also understood that adding silage effluent to slurry increases the risk as the nutrients in the effluent feed the bacteria in the slurry which are responsible for producing the hydrogen sulphide gas.

What was unique in this recent Border’s case was that the farm had just started using waste plaster board containing high levels of gypsum to help dry up the straw bedding being used in other buildings. However heavy rain had washed some of that gypsum into the slatted shed and down into the slurry store. Gypsum, or calcium sulphate, contains high levels of sulphur which encourages the bugs to produce even greater amounts of hydrogen sulphide from the slurry.

SAC warns producers who are using waste plaster board or other gypsum sources to remember this message and, as an additional safeguard, ensure that the product is stored and used in a way which completely avoids any potential contamination of slurry supplies. While this use of gypsum sources is relatively uncommon in Scotland it is believed to be more widely used in England where there is more available.

SAC also reminds farmers that when emptying slurry stores there are several key safety points to keep in mind:

  • Before starting take all animals out of the building and open all ventilation, doors etc.
  • Never enter the building when the pump mixing the slurry or emptying the store is working.
  • Ensure there is always another person present who stays outside the shed and can summon help if needed, but without entering the building and endangering themselves.
  • If entry is absolutely necessary, only appropriately supervised, competent persons, equipped with harness, lifeline and breathing apparatus, should enter slurry storage cellars and tanks.

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