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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Barley straw and blue-green algae

With all the serious issues being covered on the blogs I thought some lighter fare might be desirable.

Some years ago I was piloting a helicopter with Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers on board. Among other things being looked at we saw a number of small ponds on farm land. After noticing straw bales in or near edges of many of these ponds, I remarked to my passengers that they must have been placed there to make nesting sites for Canada geese. I was told that while that might have been a possible explanation another reason was more likely, especially where the ponds were available to cattle or horses for drinking water. They carefully explained to me that barley straw has the strange property of stopping the formation of blue-green algae so common in prairie sloughs and the build up of toxins that would not be healthy for livestock.

As my brother was still farming the land where I grew up, I passed this hint on to him. As it happened he had some barley left out in the field that he had been unable to harvest due to the early onset of winter the fall before. He said "By gully (an in joke because the farm is located on the Big Gully east of Lloydminster) I’ll just rake some of it up and dump it in the edges of a bunch of ponds where the cattle are pasturing". He told me several days later that he had gone out with his ‘shaggy dog ‘ to see if his project was working. He was amazed when the dog scared up literally hundreds of common terns that seemed to be congregating on the spots where the barley straw was spread. Furthermore the terns were having trouble getting airborne of if they managed it they usually tumbled back to earth. Putting two and two together he deduced that the recent warm weather had caused the barley to ferment and the terns were on a roaring drunk. It seems that his determined effort to stop the formation of blue-green algae in his ponds had left no tern unstoned.

Posted by Bob Wood on February 21, 2008 | Permalink


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Thanks Bob -great story -Jack Macleod

Posted by: Jack Macleod | 2008-02-21 4:06:25 PM

Thanks again. This blog just got even better.

Posted by: dewp | 2008-02-21 10:00:47 PM

As a young boy I travelled the woods a great deal in an area known for abandoned settlements. There were many old apple orchards that had survived, and made for good snacks. Occasionally the apples would ferment on the trees, and I've found evidence on a few occasions of bears having a few too many.

I wonder if drunken bears are more friendly. Hope I never have to find out.

Posted by: dp | 2008-02-22 4:08:13 PM

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