January 8, 2003 | By: Haven Miller

Obsolete pesticides left and forgotten in unused barns and other farm buildings can pose a danger to cattle and other livestock. If some of these old chemical products are ingested, cattle can get sick or even die.

“We’ve had instances this year in Kentucky where cattle have died after finding an old bag of pesticide or a spill, and then eating the contents or licking the soil,” said Roy Smith, veterinary toxicologist for the University of Kentucky Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center.

The odor or taste of some products can be attractive to animals.  Ingestion of just a small amount could, depending on the toxin, have a significant effect on the animal.  Smith said this could lead to a substantial economic loss for the farmer.

“Even if the animal just gets sick, there are certain toxins that would prevent it from being sold for several months,” Smith said.  “For example, if you get a chlorinated hydrocarbon in an animal there are laws about the levels you can have in it.  So if you’ve got an animal at market weight and then have to go on feeding it for another six months, that’s a fairly expensive proposition.”

Often, the person who stored the products is no longer around and the current owner or renter has no idea the pesticides are present.

“Producers who lease or buy land that hasn’t been used for a number of years should exercise caution before releasing livestock,” said Lee Townsend, Extension entomologist in the UK College of Agriculture.  “They should make a thorough check of all the barns and shelters on that property, and should be prepared and expect to find something.”

Townsend said being prepared means they should take along a good flashlight, a pair of chemical resistant gloves, a dust mask, paper and pencil and some heavy plastic bags.  Any containers they find may be ready to fall apart, so they should be handled carefully. 

Producers should make a list of the old products and the approximate amounts. If the bag or container has no markings the producer should assume the material is toxic and estimate the amount on hand.

“The best course of action on the first visit may be to secure the building so that animals cannot enter,” Townsend said.

The worst course of action is to ignore a potential problem and do nothing.

“We can’t prevent all of these livestock deaths and illnesses, but by taking the proper action farmers can certainly reduce the frequency,” Smith said.

The Kentucky Department of Agriculture has a free Farm Chemical Collection program and a container Rinse & Return program to help farmers properly dispose of ag pesticides.

“Producers in any of our 120 counties can call our 800 number and we’ll arrange to come out and repack the pesticides in large drums and haul it off,” said Bill Fraser, director of environmental assistance for KDA.  “I need to emphasize that the program is just for farm chemicals and does not include paint, antifreeze, cleansers, oil or industrial chemicals.”

Fraser said producers needing either farm chemical pickup or container Rinse & Return services should call 1-800-205-6543. 


Roy Smith, 859-257-0571; Lee Townsend, 859-257-7455