Wednesday, December 11, 2013
State agriculture officials plan to meet with the owners of a Gorham horse farm Tuesday to outline options for disposing of 23 horse carcasses that died of botulism over a three-week period last month.
State veterinarian Don Hoenig said he plans to present Anne and William Kozloff with a letter describing the two options.
The preferred method would be to compost the remains, a process that would cause soft tissues to decompose within three months, and the long bones after about six months.
However, the 23 horses are already buried about 8 feet deep at the Whistlin’ Willows Farm on Nonesuch Road and the owners have said that digging them up would be upsetting, as well as messy, Hoenig said.
An alternative proposed by the department’s soils experts calls for installing a curtain drain – a trench around the burial area lined with crushed rock and a plastic barrier so runoff would be diverted around the burial location instead of leaching through it.
State authorities say they are not worried about botulism contaminating the water table, but are concerned that leachate from the decomposing carcasses might harm water quality.
Linda Beck, who lives on nearby Mountain View Road, said she is worried about water quality. She has already installed a filter system because of high arsenic levels in the groundwater and she doesn’t drink the water, but does use it for cooking. Her husband, Bill Beck, said others also are worried.
“Everybody on this side of the road is concerned about the water table,” said he said. “We need information on where the horses were buried.”
State officials became aware a week and a half ago that almost two dozen horses had died from botulism poisoning. The toxin interferes with the ability of nerves to communicate with muscles, leaving the horses partially paralyzed, unable to swallow or breathe.
Some of the horses recovered from their symptoms, and 40 to 45 horses remain at the farm, Hoenig said.
The state’s investigation into the deaths was sparked by a complaint. A resident called Gorham police, who forwarded the complaint to state authorities, said Town Manager David Cole.
The state welfare agent found no evidence of neglect, and care for the animals meets state standards, Hoenig said. State standards require that horses have waterproof shelter, unlimited access to clean water and enough food to maintain body weight.
He said the state has received at least one other complaint about the farm in the past, but none since January 2010. He said the owners took the corrective action that the state inspectors ordered, but that he did know the nature of that complaint or what inspectors required them to change.
The state is still trying to pinpoint what caused the poisoning, though it has suspects. Horses usually contract botulism from feed and because so many horses were exposed to it at one farm, that is a likely source, Hoenig said.
Inspectors suspect that baleage, partially dried forage in large round bales that is then wrapped in plastic, might be to blame. The practice is common for cow feed because the partially dried grass has more nutrients than fully dried hay and does not require three straight days of dry weather after being cut, as regular hay does.
However, the sealed bales can create the oxygen-free conditions for the botulism bacteria to grow, especially if a dead rodent or other animal is baled with the hay. Cows are less susceptible because their digestive system includes a stomach with four compartments that reduces the impact of impurities. Horses, on the other hand, have very sensitive digestive systems, said Richard Brzozowski, of the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
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