IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) - While the smoke can cause problems for some people, it can also have an effect on dairy cows, says University of Idaho assistant professor of animal, veterinary and food science Amy Skibiel.
In a study conducted by Skibiel and a coworker, they monitored about 20 dairy cattle during last year's fire season. Focusing on a seven-day stretch in particular when the air quality index was high.
"We took blood samples and monitored these animals before, during, and after this smoke event," Skibiel said. "And what we found was, that when cattle were exposed to this poor air quality for wildfires, they actually produced less milk."
About three pounds a day less milk during that stretch. Even two weeks after the air quality improved, It didn't fully recover Skibiel explained.
They also found some changes in immune cell populations and markers of inflammation that may contribute to disease.
"Now we have not quite made that connection yet between disease potential or disease risk, and these changes that we're seeing in immune function," Skibiel explained. "However, there is a possible link there. And so our next sort of series of questions is going to be addressing that. Is there a link there? Do these changes associated with wildfire smoke exposure actually precipitate the development of disease conditions in dairy cattle?"
Skibiel also cautions that the study last year was "very preliminary", and "only had about 20 animals."
"So really we need to scale up and see if these patterns exist across a larger number of animals. And that's exactly what we're doing this year. And we're probably going to continue this research for the foreseeable future as long as we have funding available," Skibiel said.
Skibiel also urges she doesn't know what this could mean for the price of milk.
"At least for dairy cattle, the million-dollar question is 'What can we tell producers?' And as I mentioned, we're just not quite there yet. We need a little bit more research to guide our recommendations," Skibiel said.