Outlook for livestock health after Kansas, Colorado fires
March 31, 2017
March brought more than just the first day of spring, wildfires raged across Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. These fires claimed thousands of acres of grassland, miles and miles of fencing, and the lives of both livestock and the people who cared for them.
More than 650,000 acres were scorched along with a massive amount of fencing and buildings that could lead to millions of dollars in damages and losses. The economic impact from this devastation remains with the number of livestock lost along with their forage.
Ranchers and veterinarians immediately began assessing the damage to their animals and found that they would not be able to save many of those caught up in the flames.
"There were a number of things wrong with animals that were caught in the fire," said Randall Spare, veterinarian at Ashland Veterinary Center in Ashland, Kan. "Some were blind, scalded, their hair was missing and their udders were burnt or their feet were damaged enough that their hoof wall was going to fall off."
Many of the animals that survived the fires but were injured needed to be euthanized right away. Spare and his associates spent four days assessing and treating cattle after the fire started in Kansas.
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"The cattle that are alive and healthy probably won't need treatment at this point," Spare said.
The recovery process for farmers and ranchers who lost cattle is well under way as donations have continuously rolled in from states as far north as Michigan and everywhere in between. What matters now is the health of the animals that survived the blaze.
"As we look at the medical side of what has been going on with a lot of these animals there have been a lot of spurts of devastation," said Tim Parks, a technical service veterinarian for Merck Animal Health. "As we get further from the initial fire and euthanization of livestock, we start to see other problems come up."
With such a large fire it would be expected that smoke inhalation damage would be evident in the surviving cattle.
"There doesn't appear to be any lung damage as of right now in those cattle," Spare said. "The wind was blowing 70 miles an hour so they weren't standing around in smoke like they would have been if they had been confined to a building."
Initially, the outlook for the overall lung health of the animals appears to be good. However, as many of these animals grow and are exposed to changing weather conditions, this could change, Parks added.
"The effects of the smoke we may not see manifest until these animals start to get some more size," Parks said. "We don't know to what extent the heat and smoke caused damage."
As March showed up many of these producers were in the middle of calving season, leading to additional issues for those who already had calves on the ground. Not only did calves loose their mothers and vice versa but the udder damage could cause issues for the remaining calves.
"Some of those young calves will start to be effected as they grow," Parks said. "Even weeks after the fire started we are still seeing some cattle that need to be euthanized because of their injuries."
Cattle loss numbers in Kansas are well into the thousands, however, the lasting damage to the remaining cattle appears to be minimal.
"In the Kansas fires it was just a matter that it was so hot and so fast that a lot of the initial damage and devastation for the cattle losses is extremely high," Parks said.
An estimated 200 head of cattle were lost in the northeast Colorado fire across Phillips and Logan counties. More than 30,000 acres burned resulting in the loss of the grazing land for the cattle ranchers in that area.
"Colorado had an estimated 200 head of dead cattle and some intermittent livestock," said Terry Fankhauser, Colorado Cattlemen's Association executive vice president. "It was devastating, not just in the number of cattle but in the years and generations of development that went into those herds."
A majority of the cattle lost near Haxtun, Colo., belonged to only one producer, minimizing the spread of the devastation on that front but maximizing the impact for this one individual.
Amid all the destruction and loss, the promise of spring rain and the resilience of the American farmers and ranchers, points to rebuilding of the fences, buildings and cattle herds in the not-so-distant future. ❖
— King is a freelance writer from Oakland, Neb. and a graduate student at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.