Forage and livestock management
When forages have been impacted by flood water, they become contaminated by soil, bacteria, and flood debris. As such, precautions should be taken so livestock health is not adversely impacted.
Remove livestock from flood damaged pastures and provide access to clean water and forage. Cut flooded standing forage (pasture and hay) to a 2 to 4-inch stubble height to allow the damaged forage to decompose. Hay fields that have not recently been harvested (within 2-3 weeks) should be cut, as well. Do not make hay from or graze impacted fields until the damaged forage has fully decomposed. Once grass has regrown to a height of 8-10 inches, livestock may be allowed to graze the pasture.
Feeding hay impacted by flood water can be very risky and dangerous to livestock. Do not feed dry hay that has been soaked by flood water. Inline wrapped baleage that was not sealed on both ends is contaminated and should not be fed; however, some individually plastic wrapped baleage may be useable. Closely inspect bales for punctures or separation of the plastic layers. If there is no visible damage, the hay may be safe to feed; however, continue monitoring the baleage for separation of plastic layers prior to feeding. If the plastic separates, the forage will spoil and should be discarded. If the plastic remains intact until feeding, closely inspect bales for abnormal smells or colors and the presence of molds or excess moisture at feeding. If any of these conditions exist, the bales should be discarded and not fed.
Damaged hay should be unrolled to allow it to decompose; however, producers should be careful not to breathe the dust from flood damaged hay. A ton of dry hay (2 to 4 large round bales depending on size) contains about $50 to $60 worth of fertilizer nutrients, so priority should be placed on areas with the greatest need for soil amendments. Do not unroll hay in areas where livestock are currently or will be before the hay fully decomposes. As an alternative, damaged hay can sometimes be sold to mining operations for reclamation efforts. If damaged hay can be sold for more than the fertilizer value, this may be the best option for disposal.
Animal health is both a short and long-term concern in areas impacted by flood waters. Closely inspect all livestock that were exposed to flooded areas for injuries. Flood debris can also be consumed by livestock causing hardware disease, so every effort should be made to remove flood debris from livestock fields as soon as possible. Because soil and sediment is moved along with debris, livestock will have been exposed to a multitude of soil borne pathogens. Livestock that were exposed to flooded areas during or immediately after the flood event should be vaccinated for clostridial diseases including tetanus. Livestock that were not exposed to flooded areas during the flood event but will be placed on a pasture that was flooded at a later date should also be vaccinated prior to being placed on the impacted pasture. All age classes of livestock should be vaccinated. If livestock have not been vaccinated for clostridial diseases previously, vaccination protocols should include both a primary and a booster vaccination according to label directions. A single vaccination should be sufficient for animals that have been vaccinated previously for clostridial diseases. A 7 or 8-way clostridial vaccine is recommended for cattle and sheep and can be found in combination with tetanus (Covexin® 8, Merck Animal Health). A tetanus toxoid vaccine is necessary for horses and other equids and will require a booster. If there is an observed injury, tetanus antitoxin should be administered as well. Consultation with a local veterinarian is recommended should further questions arise regarding animal health.
Prepared by Kevin Shaffer and Ed Rayburn, WVU Extension Specialists, and Margaret Minch, Clinical Veterinarian, WVU Division of Animal and Nutritional Science