Sam Gavito, Extension Agent
Cattle can tolerate rain fairly well. Hard rains tend to make them walk in the opposite direction and rising water will confuse them unless a leader finds a raised area.
What has been different recently, and more stressful on cattle, has been that the rain has been every day in some areas.
Not always hard nor all day, but just enough to keep them from grazing like they should and settling down which increases stress, especially in younger cattle and calves.
Even if cattle are on dry land, flooded areas restrict their grazing activity and normal behavior patterns, therefore, increasing their stress. As a result, cattle in flooded areas will be more prone to diseases and infections, especially respiratory infections (pneumonia). Again it will affect the younger cattle and calves mostly.
We will probably also see a rise in stomach worm infections and liver fluke infestations as well as a boom in the horn fly and other sucking and biting insect populations.
Cattle standing in flooded, wet and muddy areas for prolonged periods of time will tend to have softer hooves and will exhibit signs of tender feet when these areas start to dry or the cattle are moved to drier areas. This is often mistaken for hoof rot.
For an animal to have hoof rot, there has to be a crack in the hoof wall to allow bacteria to invade it. Hoof rot would most likely not be in the entire herd anyway.
While cattle are grazing in these wet lush areas, two things occur.
The first is that the dry matter content of the forage is greatly reduced due to the excessive moisture in the plant. Secondly, because of this, the rate of passage through the cow is greatly increased.
Since the cow needs about 48 hours to absorb what it has eaten, rates of passages faster than this can cause malnutrition unless it is slowed, usually with hay. Protein, energy and most minerals will become deficient.
Even if the cow eats more, the feed value is still low and the rate of passage is high. When cattle loose weight or have increased stress, milk production in the cow and calf growth are reduced.
Another problem rains bring us in the pasture is an increase in poisonous plants. This past spring we had a lobelia outbreak in the southern counties and probably 100 head of cattle died in 4-5 counties.
These pastures were either too big to treat or the cattle are already severely affected. The last outbreak was several years ago.
Another potential problem is photo synthesization in cattle grazing rain lilies which may not show up for weeks after the lily is gone. In the western part of the region, in the sands and gravelly hills there can also be poisonous plants that cattle may eat because they are new to the region (the cattle or the plant).
Often times, cattle will exhibit a depraved appetite and just eat plants they would not normally eat which is why lantana is still the number one poisonous plant in our region.
One last thing is that some cattle may get mixed with neighboring cattle, either next door or in the next county. Good fences are good for herd health and herd biosecurity.
When these cattle are returned to their owners, they should be isolated just like new stock should be for a few weeks to see if they break with anything. 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.
If rain or flooding were only short term, cattle could tolerate them fairly well. It is the prolonged period that is causing problems.
If you have questions about dead cattle and disposal, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) is responsible for developing regulations for "normal" deads (not dying from an infectious disease like anthrax) while the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) is responsible for those that do die from infectious diseases, especially reportable diseases. Regulations are that cattle can compost where they lay if they are not in a water course or within 300 feet of one (or in an area with a high water table), if they do not present a nuisance to the public (your neighbor), and if they are not a health risk.
You are supposed to contact TCEQ if you decide to bury an animal, especially if you have to bury 10 or more. These rules do not apply to flock owners or veterinarians, they have separate regulations.
If you have any questions please contact Sam Gavito, Duval/Jim Hogg County Agent, at the Benavides Civic Center or call 361-256-4591.