US hurricane could usher in feed challenges for beef producers

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

Feed, forage quality, water and hay use need attention in aftermath of hurricane, says livestock specialist.

There are several steps that producers can take to prepare for impending severe weather, said Joe Paschal, livestock specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.

Producers in the region likely have been taking steps for the expected landfall of Hurricane Harvey, which brought heavy rains and high winds to portions of Texas starting on Friday. “At least with a hurricane we have some warning, and a lot people have used that time – they’ve made preparations,”​ he added.   

In preparing for the weather event many beef cattle producers will move animals out of low-lying regions to higher pastures or evacuate them from the region entirely, he told FeedNavigator. However, there are still aspects of post-event feeding and feed type to consider.

Pre-storm prep

Previous storms presented challenges for producers who had cattle stranded on hills for several days before water receded, said Paschal.

“Those cattle need water and feed – they can’t really drink the water around them and there’s nothing to eat,”​ he said. The experience is most challenging for young cattle and calves, he added.

The state has established an Animal Response Team (ART), which includes members from the Texas Animal Health Commission, Texas Department of Agriculture and Texas AgriLife Extension Service, and the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M, to help with stranded animals, he said.

“They’ll go out and gather those cattle, and bring them to higher ground,” ​said Paschal. “They’ll water and feed those cattle until the owner is able to reclaim them.”

Feedlot producers may start altering feeding times to bring their cattle through the worst of the weather, he said. “Those cattle will be in a pen, they’ll have good drainage, but they’ll still get a lot of wind and a lot of rain,”​ he added.

“They’ll be fed on the onset [of the storm] and as soon as they can when the storm is over,” ​he said. “But they will have to change the feeding routine if they go without feed very long.”

Post-storm feeding and recovery

Acidosis, founder and bloat become concerns in feeding animals after they have had poor access to feed for some time, said Paschal.

For a feedlot producer, this may mean needing to start cattle back on a smaller amount of their previous ration until the cattle are re-acclimated, he said. But it may not be necessary to reformat a new feed.

For rangeland cattle, there may be additional steps toward recovery after a storm, he said. Access to both water and feed during the storm and afterward may be difficult.

“One of the biggest things about cattle that have been water deprived, is [to] let them rehydrate slowly and the same thing with feed,” ​he said.

Offering too much water or feed too quickly can cause health issues, he said.  

“The biggest deal on recovery is young animals that have been exposed to wet and cold,”​ said Paschal. “They’re going to need to be revived, a little water over time, a little feed over time and roughage – a lot of roughage, not grain feeding.”

There is nothing wrong with using grain-based feed in general, but after a stress event, providing cattle with roughage or hay helps the rumen, he said.

The animal response team will collect donated hay and feed for areas that see the most damage, with distribution points across the state, he said.

“As far as feed supplies most of the time it’s about a thirty day event,”​ he said.  

Low-lying regions near the coast may see challenges from salt water staying in fields, said Paschal. However, heavy rains can help wash out the salt.

“A lot of [coastal fields] have really salt tolerant pastures anyway,” ​he said. “But some pastures will be effected – lower quality for a growing season or two or three.”  

Producers also will need to watch for signs of illness or injury in their cattle after the storm has passed, he said. With flooding, there will be risks of fire ant attacks, snakebites and water contaminated with oil or septic tank runoff.

“Just watch them to see if there are side effects or cough, cold, droopiness,”​ he said. “The stress is going to be the biggest effect on young animals – being out in the wind and rain can cause some sicknesses, so we recommend folks watch their livestock.”

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