AgriLife Extension outlines key considerations for livestock owners.

March 1, 2024

5 Min Read

Cattle owners assessing land and livestock after the recent wildfires need to carefully examine their animals to determine next steps, say Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

First and foremost, without risking personal safety, make efforts to either move cattle out of the path of a fire or at least cut fences or open gates where they can possibly escape the path of the fire, says Ron Gill, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension livestock specialist and professor in the Texas A&M Department of Animal Science, Bryan-College Station.

“Do not let any cattle reenter an area that is still hot from being recently burned,” Gill says.

Evaluate cattle as soon as possible once out of the path of the fire, says Jason Smith, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist in Amarillo and associate professor in the department of animal science. 

“A single, immediate evaluation will not be enough, but it is a necessary starting point,” Smith says.

For complete cattle evaluations and management after the fires, the following care guidelines were provided by Smith, Gill and Karl Harborth, AgriLife Extension livestock specialist and assistant professor in the Texas A&M Department of Animal Science, Corpus Christi.

Key evaluations for cattle after wildfires 

Some affected cattle, particularly cattle with scorched hooves, may not begin to show signs or symptoms for days to weeks following the fire. Be mindful of this and continue to evaluate cattle regularly over the coming weeks. 

  • Pay close attention to extremities, particularly hooves, udders, testicles, sheaths and soft tissues, such as eyes and muzzles.

  • Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible for help diagnosing issues and developing a strategy to treat burns and injuries, manage pain and provide a recovery prognosis.

  • Cattle with a low likelihood of recovery should be critically analyzed due to the extent of their injuries and mobility. Cattle with severe tissue damage or mobility issues may not be accepted by the processing plant, so be mindful of that before loading and transporting them. 

Water and nutrition management for healing

Smith says nutrition will be key in helping affected cattle recover, as nutrients fuel the animal’s immune system. 

The AgriLife Extension team outlines these key considerations to keep in mind:

  • Do not overlook the importance of water. Greater than normal activity and movement of cattle displaced by the fire will increase their water requirements. However overly thirsty cattle will overdrink. When possible, cattle that have been without water for more than a day should be slowly adapted back to water by providing them with access to small amounts of water — 3 to 5 gallons at a time for cows and bulls, 1 to 2 gallons at a time for growing cattle — every half hour until the cattle are no longer thirsty. They can then be provided with free-choice access to water after they have been re-acclimated.   

  • A portion of cattle in a group will likely overconsume feed and water if adequate space is not provided for all cattle to eat and drink at the same time. If possible, ensure that all cattle within a group can access feed simultaneously, and that the water supply can keep up with the demand from cattle. 

  • Good quality hay and a mineral supplement will be the most beneficial for cattle that cannot immediately return to pasture or rangeland. Low- and medium-quality hay will likely need to be supplemented with a protein and energy supplement. 

  • Be mindful of not over-supplementing cattle that were not previously supplemented with a similar amount and type of supplement — or that have not had access to those feedstuffs over the past few days. Overfeeding them will likely do more harm than good and can lead to issues in cattle that may have otherwise survived the fire unharmed. Minerals provided through the supplement will help speed up skin and hoof recovery for affected cattle.

  • Pay close attention to cow-calf pairs, as the spring calving season recently began for many operations. Burned or singed udders may result in calves not being allowed to nurse. In those situations, calves should be bottle-fed with a milk-protein-based milk replacer until the dam allows the calf to resume nursing. Often cows with scorched udders and teats will not recover in time to let the calf continue nursing before lactation ceases. Early weaning may be a viable option for fall- or winter-born calves. A calf ranch may be a viable market avenue for young, early weaned calves outside the normal livestock market acceptability range.        

Cattle movement

The AgriLife Extension experts say it is important to recognize that cattle may not understand what is happening, especially those infrequently handled or that rarely interact with people. The cattle may not react or respond to you how you expect them to or how they have in the past. 

Reflecting on the fundamental principles of cattle movement will help get cattle to do what you need them to do in an emergency situation and may mean the difference between saving and losing cattle. 

“There will likely be inexperienced people assisting with moving cattle,” Gill says. “If possible, guide any inexperienced help in getting cattle moved.”  

Some key considerations the specialists outline for moving cattle include:

  • Small calves and larger cattle should be separated into different compartments on trailers whenever possible to minimize the risk of transportation injuries to calves.

  • Recognize the space limitations of the trailer that is being used to transport cattle, and that the space requirement may be greater than normal due to smoke inhalation and low air quality. 

  • Before loading cattle, consider the hauling limitations of the truck and trailer, and confirm that the cattle can be unloaded once they arrive at their destination.

  • Try to minimize the time the cattle spend on the trailer, particularly when air quality is low.    

More wildfire recovery information

AgriLife Extension will provide more educational information as more information becomes available on the losses and needs of those affected by the wildfires. Contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency for more information on available livestock disaster assistance programs and requirements.

More preparedness and recovery information may be found on the Disaster Assessment and Recovery website. Safety tips and wildfire resources are also available on the Texas Ready website and the Texas A&M Forest Service website.

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