Loss of livestock reaches millions

Gulf Coast states assess damage to livestock caused by Hurricane Katrina
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Along with the number of companion animals that suffered from Hurricane Katrina, livestock—including cattle, horses, and poultry—also succumbed to floodwater, high winds, and other effects from the storm.

On Sept. 20, the Department of Agriculture reported that, as a result of Katrina, millions of chickens died and chicken grow-out facilities were destroyed, leading to long-term economic losses. An estimated 10,000 cattle died or were displaced. Altogether, the USDA reported that short-term livestock production losses to the hurricane were an estimated $30 million, not including infrastructure. Of that $30 million, an estimated $15 million worth of poultry and $8 million worth of cattle were lost.

Several weeks after Katrina impacted the Gulf Coast, the region's state veterinarians were still assessing the damage to livestock. In Georgia, tornadoes spun from the hurricane had caused more livestock loss than the hurricane itself. In other states, recovery efforts were well under way until Hurricane Rita arrived Sept. 24 and caused further destruction.  

States provide preliminary assessments

Cattle and horses were the livestock most affected by the storm in Louisiana. Several cow operations south of New Orleans lost roughly half of their cattle, said Dr. Maxwell A. Lea, the Louisiana state veterinarian.

"The cattle that are left, some are still in place, some have been moved to other pasture, and a pretty significant number have been sold," he said. The beef cattle industry in that area will be slow to return to full production levels, Dr. Lea said, estimating the recovery rate could take a couple years.

Meanwhile, a number of dairy farms north of New Orleans, near Lake Pontchartrain, lost some cattle after the storm destroyed several fences. Overall, the damage to the dairy farms was minimal, Dr. Lea said, and the producers will most likely work up to full production mode within the month.

Dr. Lea reported that roughly 400 horses were evacuated from New Orleans to the Lamar-Dixon Equine Exposition Center in Gonzales, La. The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's Veterinary Services helped evacuate the animals. The state is still assessing the number of horses lost.

Katrina also damaged the aquaculture in Louisiana. Officials at Louisiana State University AgCenter reported that early estimates indicated many oyster beds were scoured away or silted. Crawfish and catfish producers avoided damage to their operations, officials said.

Once Hurricane Rita made landfall in Louisiana, Dr. Lea said the storm caused substantial damage at pastures in Cameron and Vermilion parishes. More than 30,000 cows resided in those parishes.

In Mississippi, areas south of Hattiesburg endured the most damage, said Teresa Howes, a public affairs officer for the Mississippi Board of Animal Health. Howes was deployed to the affected area through the USDA-APHIS at the Mississippi state veterinarian's request.

Poultry were the most affected livestock in the state, with more than 6 million birds lost and 2,400 poultry barns damaged, the USDA reported. Cattle were minimally affected.

Horses were also affected, with one animal shelter in Hattiesburg housing up to 40 at one point, Howes said.

On Sept. 9, all 82 counties in Mississippi became eligible for various USDA disaster assistance programs. Farmers in the counties qualified to recover some of the costs incurred as a result of the damage caused by Katrina.  

Katrina lets up in Alabama, Georgia

Although Louisiana and Mississippi seemed to lose the most livestock, Alabama and Georgia lost some poultry and cattle, while Florida reported minimal impact. 

In Alabama, Dr. Anthony G. Frazier, the state veterinarian, reported a total of about 25,000 birds died in several poultry houses in the state's southwest area after generators failed. Overall, the USDA said Alabama lost an estimated 200,000 chickens.

Frazier noted some cattle in the southern coastal counties were displaced when fences were damaged.

Katrina did not directly impact Georgia, but several tornadoes spun from the storm and damaged 17 poultry houses. Located in Carroll County, the damaged poultry houses resulted in a combined loss of 374,500 chickens. The Georgia Department of Agriculture, poultry companies, and farm families, however, helped salvage roughly 66,000 three-week-old chickens at one farm, and about 72,000 birds that were about 40 days old at another farm, said Tommy Irvin, the Georgia commissioner of agriculture.

Though Katrina did not directly impact livestock in Texas, state officials accommodated the livestock that were evacuated from Louisiana and Mississippi. The Texas Animal Health Commission allowed livestock from the states to enter Texas without the usually required health documents, provided the owners or shippers alerted the TAHC before crossing the state line.

Then prior to Hurricane Rita's arrival, more than 10,000 head of livestock, most of which were horses, were evacuated. At press time, the state was assessing the overall damage caused by Rita.