Livestock safety, care tips offered for after hurricanes

Safe drinking water is first priority with livestock, and hay is most important feed source for stranded or displaced cattle.

September 6, 2017

4 Min Read
Livestock safety, care tips offered for after hurricanes
Experts suggest moving livestock to higher and drier ground to alleviate foot problems and more easily inspect them for injury.(Texas A&M AgriLife Communications photo by Blair Fannin)

As cattle producers in eastern Texas continue to clean up after Hurricane Harvey, and as livestock producers in Florida brace for Hurricane Irma, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialists offered advice for post-hurricane livestock care.

“Water is the first priority with livestock, so producers should try and find a safe drinking water source and make sure their animals have an adequate supply,” said Dr. Jason Cleere, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist in College Station, Texas.

“Some animals may not eat wet forage as readily as dry but will still eat it if hungry,” he said. “With substantial flooding, cattle often become stranded, and forages may be unavailable or ruined. In such instances, supplemental sources of feed may be necessary.”

Cleere said hay is the most important feed source for stranded or displaced cattle.

“It’s acceptable for animals to eat clean hay, even if it’s wet, especially if that’s the best option available,” he said. “Don’t give livestock moldy feed, as it may contain toxins. While processed feed can usually be taken into affected areas more easily than hay, be sure it has some roughage in it to help stave off any digestive issues the livestock may have.”

Cleere said moving livestock to higher ground will allow for better care and help alleviate foot and skin problems.

“Producers should also be mindful that Hurricane Harvey may have left a lot of debris in pastures, so it would be a good idea for them to survey these pastures and remove any potential environmental hazards,” he said.

Dr. Jason Banta, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist in Overton, Texas, said plastic items, especially plastic bags, could be an issue.

“Cattle have been known to eat plastic bags, and livestock can become seriously ill from consuming foreign objects,” Banta said.

Livestock in affected areas can also be in danger from injury and from biting fire ants and snakes, added Dr. Joe Paschal, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist in Corpus Christi, Texas.

“As soon as it is safe, livestock owners should check on the condition of their animals,” Paschal said. “It is best to move them out of flooded areas and into dry or covered areas, if possible; then, check them for injury and render any necessary first aid as they are able until a veterinarian can be found.

“If an animal has an injury, clean the wound, dress it with a with topical antibiotic and cover it with a bandage or gauze if you have some. Then, contact your vet, and provide a full description of the injury, as your vet will likely need to prioritize the treatment of your animal,” he added.

Paschal said producers should also be aware that many animals will be in shock and disoriented from their recent ordeal.

“It’s important to be gentle with livestock under these conditions,” he said. “Don’t overtax them, and remember not to overfeed or overwater them, as this can cause additional physiological stress. Also, some young animals may have lost their mother, so they will need special care.”

Paschal said animals that have not been able to eat for one or more days should be given a little feed over the first few days and then have the amount increased gradually over a week’s time.

“Producers should also check their animals for signs of illness, especially a secondary respiratory disorder like pneumonia,” he said. “Listen for coughing or hard breathing, and look for non-clear mucus running from the nose. Later, you might notice crusty eyes and a lowered head. You’ll want to get treatment for these animals as soon as possible.”

Banta said he expects pneumonia and foot rot to be the two biggest livestock health issues stemming from the hurricane.

Others hazard to livestock may be stinging insects and venomous snakes.

“Usually, snakes bite animals on the head or neck area, but smaller livestock can be bitten anywhere on their body the snake can reach,” Paschal said. “Water moccasins, rattlesnakes and copperheads are the most likely to strike and can be recognized by their triangular head shape.”

He said the closer the bite is to the heart, the worse it is.

“Smaller animals are more susceptible to snakebite, since the dose of venom is greater relative to body size,” he said. “They are also more vulnerable to fire ant bites, and venomous spiders are also a concern, but their bites are usually not fatal to livestock.”

Paschal added that internal and external parasites can become a major problem after a flood.

The experts warned that some cattle may be severely injured and may need to be humanely euthanized; livestock killed during the storm will need proper disposal. Some of the options for carcass removal include on-site burial, composting or sending the carcass to a municipal solid waste landfill.

“The main thing is that you dispose of a dead animal in a way that the carcass will not affect the water table, create a nuisance, endanger public health or be an eyesore,” Banta said.

Additional information on livestock recovery after a disaster can be found on the Texas Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) website at

The University of Florida has emergency considerations for cattle posted at

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