Are CRP Efforts Increasing Deadly Grass Awn Infections?

Bird hunters love CRP. It is, without a doubt, the most successful and important gamebird conservation program we have. But could CRP have the potential to kill your gundog? That's what a study funded by the AKC Canine Health Foundation hopes to investigate.

From this story on the AKCCHF website (via the Living With Bird Dogs blog):

The most recent grant to benefit sporting dogs investigates "mean seeds" and the role they play in grass awn migration disease. In the sporting dog world, there is a perception among owners that there has been a dramatic escalation in the incidence of grass awn migration disease in the last 20 years...

...One of the ways the seeds disperse is by attaching to things that come into contact with them. Animals and their fur are important ways grass seeds get transported to new locations. From an ecological standpoint, the attachment of grass seeds to sporting dogs is an important natural process. From the perspective of dogs and their owners, it is a dangerous threat. (AKC Canine Health Foundation Grant Application). The barbed grass awns, or "mean seeds," attach to a dogs coat and pierce the skin or are ingested or inhaled. Once in a dog's body, these mean seeds tend to migrate, leaving a trail of infection behind. These infections cause illness that is difficult to diagnose, and can even be fatal.

Grass awn infections are a very real and very dangerous threat to gundog owners, but what does this have to do with CRP? Because one of the suspected reasons for the dramatic increase in grass seed-related canine deaths is the inclusion of such grasses in the CRP program, including Canada and Virginia rye. That's right, some of very grasses we're planting for the benefit of gamebirds pose a potentially lethal threat to the dogs we hunt them with. But those aren't the only dangerous grasses. Cheatgrass (photo), foxtail barley and other wild awned grasses are equally dangerous. For a complete list of problem grasses the mean seeds website is a great resource. In addition, here is a very informative blog post on the Living With Bird Dogs site about dog training in areas with problem grass.

But the focus of the AKCCHF study is on the inclusion of bad grasses in the CRP program and hopefully, a means to make dog-friendly changes to program

"The primary goal of the study is to determine the frequency with which these barbed seeds are planted, so that sporting dog owners and field trialers can begin discussions with the US Department of Agriculture to modify their recommended list of grasses to be planted on CRP lands."

I, like many of you, do a lot of hunting on CRP ground. Thus far I've been lucky and have never had to deal with a grass awn infection, but I don't like playing the odds and it'd be great if we could find some way to continue CRP plantings with alternative grasses that give gamebirds cover while giving our dogs a measure of protection from a very nasty problem. Have any readers had to contend with a grass awn infection?