Animal Health Matters: Making sure animals are cared for during spring flooding

Russ Daly
Special to the Farm Forum

The warning signs are already in place. Once the spring thaw starts, especially in places already saturated from last fall, flooding seems all but inevitable. Soggy pastures, lots, and farmyards, along with impassable roads will make life challenging this spring in much of the area.

Of the people witnessing the rising water, livestock producers and other animal caretakers have perhaps the most daunting task. It’s incumbent upon them to not only protect their family and home, but also their feed sources, outbuildings, and their animals themselves. Unfortunately, spring flooding coincides with calving time for most cow-calf producers in the Dakotas—an especially busy and stressful time even in a “normal” year. In the midst of all this activity, how can one prepare for possible floodwaters?

First off, is it possible to move animals and feedstuffs out of the potential path of water to higher ground? The earlier this can be done the better, before mud and bad roads make this impossible. In emergency situations, livestock producers with limited areas of high ground might consider working with neighbors to share patches of ground or feedstuffs until conditions improve. Yes, inter-mixing of herds presents potential biosecurity and disease transfer issues, but sometimes those considerations just need to take a back seat. Temporary fencing could be used to keep animal groups separate if necessary.

What animal care supplies will be necessary to have at hand for calving season and other situations? Water over roads could make that last-minute trip to town three times as long or impossible. Stock up on colostrum (or colostrum replacers/supplements), milk replacer, and necessary purchased feed. Soggy conditions will likely mean more scours, pneumonia, and navel infections, heightening the chance that antibiotics, electrolytes, and other treatments will be needed. Electric fence materials are another item to stock up on, so they can be used to fence animals away from problem areas or keep animal groups separate.

In the unfortunate situation of having to evacuate homes or barns, is there a plan in place to relocate horses and tend to their care, or to care for family pets in the event of an evacuation? These questions should be answered well before the spring thaw, so that decisions do not have to be made during the rush, panic, and emotions of the moment. Information at SDSU Extension [] or the American Veterinary Medical Association [] websites are good resources for the planning process.

What about the vaccination status of your animals? Get these updated before the thaw commences. It’s no problem to be early with boosters, but putting them off increases the chance they might not get done at all. Tetanus boosters for horses should be secured early in the season, as standing water and debris make exposure more likely. If dogs and cats will be due for—or are behind on—rabies boosters, those vaccinations should be done prior to the onset of expected flooding. Flood waters may roust out skunks and other wild animals from their normal habitat, making encounters more likely. All animals under care should be well-identified, which will make their recovery easier should they become separated.

Whatever happens this spring, people should keep one thing foremost in their minds – ensuring their own safety and that of their family members. It is extremely important to do whatever possible for the animals in our care, but not at the risk of jeopardizing our own safety.

Trying to rescue animals in freezing water is a dangerous proposition and one that can put a person’s own life in peril. That’s only one reason why preparation for floodwaters—even if it turns out to have been unnecessary—is so important.

SDSU Extension is working to help citizens prepare for all the issues that arise as the waters rise in the spring. The SDSU Extension flood page [] is a one-stop location for all topics related to flooding. This is a valuable resource for homeowners, property owners, farmers, and ranchers by providing methods to prepare for flooding, access resources during events, and deal with the aftermath.