Flood, weather kill thousands of cattle in North Dakota

Cold and ice hurt animals
Published on June 01, 2009
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Flooding and winter weather killed about 91,000 cattle in North Dakota this winter and spring, according to the state agriculture department.

Those numbers were expected to increase as floodwaters receded and farmers evaluated losses, North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said in a statement issued in late April. The flooding also ruined feed and damaged farm buildings and fences.

Volunteers work at an emergency pet shelter
Volunteers work at an emergency pet shelter March 28 on the Red River Valley Fairgrounds.

Dr. Susan Keller, North Dakota's state veterinarian, said her office does not track animal injuries, but she has heard anecdotally that most of the severe injuries involved the breakup of ice jams, pieces of which struck animals. Some of those animals drowned, she said.

Other animals developed hypothermia, and some of those that survived had serious freezing injuries, Dr. Keller said. Chronic pneumonia could also cause some losses to farmers.

Dr. Keller's agency has served as a go-between for producers and field staff, which include veterinarians, county agents, and county managers, in providing information on loans for recovery. She said the department has also authorized orders for safe disposal of carcasses when needed.

Dr. Garry Goemann, chairman of the Minnesota VMA Disaster Issues Committee, was one of three Minnesota veterinarians and two veterinary technicians deployed to Valley City, N.D., through the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps. The veterinarians and technicians were in the town for four days to establish a shelter in case levees in Fargo broke or came close to breaking.

"We didn't get any animals, because the levees held," Dr. Goemann said. "When the second surge came, it was nowhere near as high, so they didn't need us to go back."

The Sheyenne River runs through Valley City, and Dr. Goemann was in the town as residents brought in sand and worked to build up levees in anticipation of a flood surge.

Flooding occurred in farmlands south of town, where levees broke, but farmers were largely able to move livestock to high ground or out of the area, Dr. Goemann said.

Dr. Derine L. Winning, president of the North Dakota VMA, said she and another veterinarian staffed a shelter in Fargo, where they examined animals as they were brought in, ensured the animals were up-to-date on vaccinations, treated stress problems, and addressed owner concerns.

"There's a lot of anxiety in these situations with the owners and having to leave their animals," Dr. Winning said.

The shelter's temporary residents included 208 dogs and cats, 77 horses, a few potbellied pigs, and a goat, Dr. Winning said.

"I think we were very fortunate in that there wasn't an actual breach of any dikes on a large scale, so we didn't have a lot of small animals stranded anywhere," Dr. Winning said.

Other groups checked farms to make sure large animals had solid footing and access to feed.

Dr. Winning said the flooding served as a good learning experience. She said disasters can occur anywhere, and preparation is key.

"You always want to be prepared, but you always think nothing is going to happen," Dr. Winning said. "And I think it was a good experience for the veterinarians in the community. It brought a lot of us together, and we cooperated with each other and got the job done."

Dr. Goemann said he did not expect veterinarians would need to be involved in long-term recovery efforts, because people had already become organized and brought their animals home. If the emergency had lasted longer, however, a memorandum of understanding signed by Dr. Keller would have allowed the AVMA to deploy Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams.

Goehring said in his April 27 statement the state legislature was considering a $1 million loan program for livestock producers whose herds were hurt by winter storms and flooding.