Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer has asked Governor Steve Beshear to request a disaster declaration from the U.S. Department of Agriculture due to numerous cattle deaths from a weather-related condition called primary ruminal tympany, more commonly known as frothy bloat.

“Weather conditions that led to bloat began three summers ago, when back-to-back droughts in 2007 and 2008 weakened grass stands in pastures across Kentucky,” Commissioner Farmer said. “Then this spring, a dry April caused grass to lie dormant, followed by a wet May that caused white clover to grow higher and faster than grass.”

Kentucky cattle have consumed greater quantities of clover this year, which has led to many cases of the deadly bloat. Clover is high in soluble protein that, combined with rapid fermentation, produces a foam in the cow’s rumen that blocks the normal escape of the gas through belching. The first chamber of the stomach becomes enlarged, blowing up like a balloon, which limits breathing.

Commissioner Farmer has been in contact with U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler and John W. McCauley, state executive director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, to ask about the release of relief funds through the Livestock Indemnity Program for Kentucky cattlemen whose herds have been affected by bloat.

Dave Maples, executive vice-president of the Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association, said his phone has been ringing off the hook from the state’s producers. He said one Fayette County cattleman lost around 30 head, and just about everyone he’s talked with has lost at least one animal from bloat.

Jeff Lehmkuhler, Extension beef specialist at the University of Kentucky, said producers are suffering losses both from culling affected cattle and buying products to prevent bloat. He mentioned one Kentucky producer who had nine cows die in his herd of 200.

Lehmkuhler said figures are not yet available on the number of Kentucky cattle killed by bloat. He said he’s talked to some producers who have lost as much as 25 to 30 percent of their herds. He believes the problem could persist through the fall, resulting in more losses.

“Kentucky producers take in about $600 million in cash receipts from the sale of cattle and calves in a normal year,” Commissioner Farmer said. “I will continue to monitor the frothy bloat situation, and I will pursue every option to help our cattle producers get through this crisis.”