Rain, flooding and mud stress cattle

Recent rains and flooding have been hard on livestock, but producers can help them weather the unusually wet summer, says Joe Paschal, Texas Cooperative Extension livestock specialist. He says recommendations are for cattle but could apply to sheep and goats in most cases:

— Cattle can tolerate rain fairly well, but hard rains tend to make them walk in the opposite direction the rain is coming from, and rising water will confuse them unless a leader finds a raised area. What has recently stressed cattle more has been that the rain has come every day in some areas — not always hard or all day, but just enough to keep them from grazing and settling down as they usually would like. This increases stress, especially in younger cattle and calves.

— Flooded areas, even if cattle are on dry land, can restrict grazing and disrupt normal behavior, increasing stress. As a result, cattle in flooded areas are more prone to diseases and infections, especially respiratory infections such as pneumonia. Again, the younger cattle and calves generally are affected. Stomach worm and liver fluke infestations will probably increase, and producers can expect a boom in horn fly and other sucking and biting insect populations.

— Cattle standing in flooded areas, wet areas and mud for a long time tend to have softer hooves and will exhibit signs of tender feet. These problems show up when these areas start to dry, or the cattle are moved to drier areas. This condition is often mistaken for hoof rot. Hoof rot occurs when an animal has a crack that allows bacteria to invade it. Hoof rot would most likely infect the entire herd.

— Two things occur while cattle are grazing in wet areas. First, the dry matter content of the forage is greatly reduced due to the excessive moisture in the plant. Secondly, excessive moisture causes the forage’s rate of passage through the cow’s rumen to be greatly increased. As a cow needs about 48 hours to absorb what it has eaten, fast rates of passage can cause malnutrition. Faster rates of passages can be slowed with hay. A cow will suffer from deficiencies of protein, energy and most minerals. Even if the cow eats more, the feed value is still low and the rate of passage is high. When cattle lose weight or have increased stress, milk production and calf growth are also reduced.

— Because flooding may damage fences, some cattle may get mixed with neighboring herds. Good fences are good for herd health and biosecurity because livestock are not allowed to wander. When these cattle are returned to their owners, they should be isolated for a few weeks to see if they develop any disease symptoms. During that time the cattle should be treated for internal and external parasites, and at any signs of disease treated according to a veterinarian’s recommendations.

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