Savannah Valley District

Picking Up the Pieces – Managing Livestock Pastures After a Severe Weather Event

Marion Barnes, Senior County Extension Agent- Clemson University

Severe weather events like hurricanes and tropical storms remind us of how vulnerable we all are to weather events. Livestock producers are no exception. These events cause stress and problems for livestock as well as producers. When storms cause damage to personal property, dwellings, outbuildings, and other structures, pastures, and livestock are sometimes a low priority in the recovery process.

Immediately after the storm subsides, and family and friends are safe, producers should assess damage to livestock and infrastructure. Livestock should be evaluated for injuries from flying debris or falling trees. In addition to flying debris, downed power lines can pose electrocution hazards. After storms that produce excessive rainfall, monitor livestock for foot rot and other skin conditions, stress-related pneumonia, and other health issues. If livestock injuries are severe, a veterinarian should be consulted.

Next, check to make sure adequate water is available. Producers should prioritize water restoration for their livestock when power is out, especially during hot weather. Generally, adult lactating beef cows of average size can need as much as 25 gallons per day of fresh water, and mature goats will need 1 to 3 gallons, depending on their size. If cattle are watered from ponds or streams, examine drinking water closely and avoid any stagnant areas that may contain microorganisms harmful to animals. When cattle have been deprived of water, they can become aggressive, and producers should take care when filling tanks or restoring water to the herd. Cattle and farmers can be injured.

Inspect fences for damage from uprooted trees or falling limbs as soon as possible. Perimeter or boundary fences should be the priority. Free-roaming livestock can be a hazard to motorists and a liability to the owner. Regarding a shared fence line, contacting the adjacent landowner concerning repairs would be advisable. Ensure you have enough materials on hand, such as metal T-posts, wood posts, gates, wire, nails, fence staples, tools, and other resources necessary to make repairs. Chances are, if you have fence damage, other producers in the area also have damage, and supplies may be limited and unavailable for purchase.   

If electrical fencing is in use, ensure the power level is adequate for operation. If the power is out, consider emergency power for the fence energizer, such as battery or solar power. Inspect electrical fences for downed trees, limbs, and branches that may cause grounding. Consider installing a temporary poly wire and temporary post if permanent repairs cannot be made.

Weather events such as hurricanes, tropical storms, and/or tornadoes that produce high winds can deposit debris such as insulation and other building materials that livestock may eat, leading to digestive upset and possibly death. High winds can fall trees and limbs that can harm livestock if ingested. Prussic acid poisoning  (cyanide) is common, and cattle, sheep, and goats can die from consuming wilted wild cherry leaves following storms. This hazard increases if grazing is short and animals are hungry. Storms occurring in late summer or early fall can knock down oak trees and displace large amounts of green acorns that, if consumed by livestock, can result in poisoning. Scout pastures for potential poisoning hazards and remove livestock to safer pastures until debris can be cleaned up and removed.   

Provide animals that have not had access to feed for one or more days with a limited amount for the first few days. Gradually increase it over a week to full feed. Remember to feed in moderation and never feed livestock wet, moldy feed. Make sure livestock has access to adequate forage and mineral supplements. Monitor animals for signs of sickness. Listen for signs of coughing and hard breathing; look for runny noses, crusted eyes, and lowered heads. Isolate sick animals from the herd and contact your veterinarian for treatment options. Utilize low-stress handling methods when gathering and working livestock. Behavioral changes after storms and other stressful events are not uncommon in livestock.

Take photos (with time and date) or videos of any damage to property, livestock, or farm assets to aid in communication with ag lenders or insurance companies. Policy numbers, computer files, financial information, and other documentation will be helpful when submitting claims for storm damage.   

Severe weather events are a part of everyday life on the farm and can happen anytime. Disaster preparedness and recovery plans are crucial for livestock producers and are a necessary tool to protect their operations and the safety of their animals. For more information on livestock production, contact your local Clemson Extension Office.

Information for this article was taken in part from Hurricane Preparedness and Recovery for Beef-Cattle Operations, Mississippi State University Extension Service and Picking Up After the Storm on Pasture-Based Livestock Farms, Matt Poore, Ph.D., Extension Beef Specialist, North Carolina State University Department of Animal Science. They were preparing Your Livestock Operation for the Next Major Hurricane by Doug Mayo, University of Florida Extension Service.

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