Problems that arise from heavy rains, flooding
July 1, 2014
What a difference a few weeks make in farming and ranching. Not long ago we were listed as a moderated drought area and now it is flooding. Interstates are blocked and dams are failing. This causes the movement of soil, exposing things buried for many years. This erosion means we must be on the lookout for several diseases.
In the past we believed Anthrax to be a problem in very dry years. The cattle grazing on short pastures were thought to pull the roots of the grass and thereby ingest soil. The Anthrax spores were present in the dirt and caused the animal to become ill. Many of the cases I have seen recently have been in wet years. The usual scenario is where a creek bank becomes eroded, work has been done on a waterway, or a bridge repair or construction. All of these cause new dirt to be exposed allowing animals to consume the buried spores. The best treatment is of course prevention. That is why we recommend yearly vaccination for Anthrax.
Another common soil-borne bacteria is Clostridium. In our area of South Dakota we seem to have a very high number of Clostridial deaths. Our soil type seems to potentiate the numbers of Clostridial organisms available for consumption. Again the erosion of water ways causes organisms to become carried in the rapidly moving water. When these waters are spread over the flood plains, they deposit all the vegetation into the soil. Grazing calves consume the bacteria and become sick. We usually have outbreaks in older calves in the late summer. Cows usually are not as susceptible and rarely show symptoms.
Vaccines are inexpensive and are the best means of prevention. Cow vaccination ensures colostral protection of the calf and boosters at turnout should be sufficient for protection. We usually recommend a booster when the calves receive their primary pre-weaning vaccinations.
High winds and floods may also spread debris on pasture and hay meadows. If these are consumed by the cow or calf, they may cause 'hardware disease.' I have found chunks of barbed wire two feet long in a cow's rumen. Small chunks of wire, nails and metal can be spread across pastures and hay meadows. It is hard to believe but the cow and calf haphazardly consume anything in their path. It is not uncommon to find tires in hay bales. These really make a racket when they meet the hay grinder. One of the worst problems with wire I have ever seen was a client with a wire-tie square baler. He had some trouble with the 'knotter' and re-bailed all of the broken bales without removing the wires. As I remember he lost about one third of his cow herd that winter. Remember to be careful and pick up all debris from pastures and hayland. Baling ditches is OK if you know what you are getting, but buying ditch hay usually results in cow deaths.
Lead toxicity is another problem we see after heavy rains. Many of the old electric fences used 12 volt car batteries for power. The batteries were usually left in the fence line and fencers were taken home for the winter. The lead plates in these batteries are usually the source of the problem in calves. You may see blindness, staggering, recumbency and death. If you search diligently you can usually follow the calf's trail to the source. There may be other sources around building sites, but of batteries are the most common.
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Grazing and feedlot cattle consume a lot of roughage, but may inadvertently consume pathogens, foreign bodies and toxins. If you have problems consult your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis. Be prepared and always remember treatment of these problems is not very successful. Prevention is the best option for your operation.