Animal rescue operations continue in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey
September 7, 2017
Brian Pearson is the cattle manager of Texas' Spindletop Ranch and has spent long days and nights preparing for Hurricane Harvey and now, in the storm's wake, days rescuing cattle and moving them to higher ground.
Pearson and his crew from the Devers, Texas, ranch and surrounding ranches, have moved several hundred pairs to higher ground in water that is as deep as their horses' bellies and up to 5 feet in some areas. Early in the process, the crew was joined by crews in boats who spent the day roping baby calves and taking them to safety. Crews have used horses, tractors, aircraft, and trucks to access flooded areas and then driving the cattle through the water to safety.
In the days following the storm, Pearson and his crew have devoted long hours to checking cattle for signs of respiratory illness and injury. Rain rot has also been a concern for cattle and horses alike. While there are not yet concrete numbers of cattle lost, the area affected comprises 54 Texas counties and is home to, according to STgenetics Beef, 27 percent of the state's beef cattle.
In Bellville, Texas, Kimmi Byler's equine rescue facility, Byler Performance Equine, survived the storm unscathed, allowing Byler and her crew to waste no time going to work treating rescued animals.
Byler said while the waters continue to recede, more animals are able to come out of the flooded areas. Cattle, horses, small animals, and wildlife are among the flooding victims that have been found, pushed by waters up onto mounds of debris.
"Think about a pasture that probably had 300 mama cows and babies in it," she said. "When that water came through they were separated with the baby calf being washed one way and the cow being pushed another. Nothing is matching up."
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Herds from neighboring ranches are intermingled but that isn't slowing the care and feeding of the cattle.
"The people who have cattle are taking in their neighbors' cattle and taking care of them like their own," she said. "Everyone is stepping up."
Immediately, sloughing of the skin, swelling, puncture wounds, abrasions and pneumonia, are among the health concerns being treated. Byler said the pneumonia is caused by cattle and horses going beneath the waters and can appear within 6 hours. The animals are all experiencing the effects of stress in addition to staph infections, bacterial infections and digestive concerns.
"We're seeing colic as these horses have been standing in water and not eating so their intestines shrunk down from a lack of forage," Byler said. "Once you start feeding, you have to start with small amounts to start expanding the bands back out. They will still go into a hypersensitivity and basically form a blockage."
Colic and dehydration from trauma causing horses to cease eating and drinking are also concerns.
"I haven't come across a single person that hasn't had a good outlook on this," Byler said. "They're stepping up and saying we'll get through this. On the flip side, when you see men breaking down … ranchers are the first to help and when you see them break down in pure gratitude, it's really something."
Byler, who is a reconditioning and rehabilitation expert, has also been arranging foster care for rescued livestock as many owners have also lost their homes and barns and are unable to care for livestock. This placement follows a full healthcare workup on the animal and is only completed for animals not in immediate health emergency.
Joshua Rush, a Waller, Texas, auctioneer, is in Sealy, Texas, coordinating the arrival of supplies for cattlemen.
"We've been in 24-hour contact with locations helping get supplies directly to producers," he said. "We're set up at Sealy Tractor which is midway between Beaumont and LaGrange."
LaGrange and Wharton are two of the communities that have flooded and are receiving help. Beaumont, Rush said, is currently flooding and will also receive aid from the group. The group is in a central point for supply drop off, as the process of getting supplies to the area is challenging. Once dropped off, Rush and others, get the supplies directly to cattlemen and producers who have been affected.
"We have received hay from Colorado, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas," he said. "These people are donating their trucks, trailers, and fuel to get these donations directly to where they're needed."
Cattle cubes are in high demand as relief efforts intensify. Cubes, Rush said, are especially effective as they can be put out for cattle by air boat and by aircraft.
In small towns in the area affected, Mike Arnold and the All American Beef Battalion have been set up and serving hamburgers to volunteers, first responders, evacuation centers, cowboys gathering cattle and residents. The group's mission is to feed ribeye steak dinners to troops returning from or preparing for deployment but they have responded to the needs of their rural neighbors in small Texas towns. The group has served over 100,000 hamburger meals and the list of donors has grown daily to the tune of over 200,000 hamburger patties, buns, equipment, charcoal, labor and monetary donations. The Battalion has served meals in small towns from Rockport, Texas, to Sulphur, La.
As waters recede, ranchers in the area are still attempting to gather, feed and sort cattle that were pushed by the storm.
"The cattle are all running together," he said. "Cowboys are trying to push them together to sort and ship and identify where they go."
A cattleman and Superior Livestock representative, Arnold has heard reports of missing pairs, mother cows and calves that could add up to half of the area's cattle numbers. Gathering and identification of cattle is slow and many ranchers told Arnold there are still cattle and pastures they are not yet able to access.
"Our roots are in the rural areas," Arnold said. "We have rural roots and we're sticking to the small towns that have been overlooked. We really get along with the country people and that's where we are."
— Rachel Spencer is a freelance writer from Wiggins, Colo., where she and her family raise cattle and show goats. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Rachel Spencer Media.