This spring’s wicked storms are giving Arkansas ranchers two kinds of headaches: declining hay quality and increased concern for livestock health due debris and bacteria stirred by floodwater.
County extension agents across the state said the saturated ground has made it impossible for hay growers to cut their meadows. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service crop report released Monday, 50 percent of the state’s pastures were rated fair, poor or very poor, with just 11 percent rated excellent. Sixty-five percent of non-alfalfa hay was fair, poor or very poor. The hay crop in Arkansas was valued at $360.9 million in 2013, according to NASS.
Andy Vangilder, Clay County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said fescue is getting a little too mature for the first cutting.
“The quality of the hay diminishes the older it gets,” he said. Several agents said the chances for harvest this week were low because of continued rain.
“Lots of pastures are over-mature and there are also many pastures and hay fields under water,” said Jesse Bocksnick, Perry County extension agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “This is severely setting back hay harvest and limiting the amount of pasture to graze. Some producers are feeding hay left from last year because of this.
“When the water does come off the hay will be extremely dirty causing lots of wear and tear on the equipment not to mention the debris left deposited in the fields,” he said.
Wind- and flood-borne debris can be deadly to cattle, goats and horses -- a syndrome ranchers call “hardware disease.” Livestock owners should walk their fields to clear storm debris that could puncture an animal’s stomach or intestines or cause other internal injuries.
“Cattle grazing may not notice wood splinters, metal shards or construction items such as screws and nails,” said Tom Troxel, associate head, animal science, for the Division of Agriculture. “And sometimes, in fields that have old, rusting fences or bailing wire or where grazing occurs near construction foreign objects wind up bailed in hay.”
Flooding can also increase the danger of blackleg, a fatal disease caused by the Clostridium chauvoeibacterium.
“Blackleg is a soil-borne bacterium infection and any disturbance to the soil such as a flood may increase the exposure of the bacterium to the cattle,” he said. “Blackleg is seasonal with most cases occurring in the warm months of the year - which is coming up. Excavation of soil or soil disturbance is also a concern.”
Blackleg symptoms include: lameness, depression, fever but most of the time sudden death – meaning treatment is useless. Troxel said blackelg vaccine is one of the most inexpensive vaccines for cattle. It is recommended vaccinating all calves and also vaccinating the cows to ensure good maternal transfer for the next calf.
Floodwaters can transport the bacteria that cause leptospirosis, or “lepto,” to new fields. The bacteria’s maintenance hosts can include dogs, pigs and horses and wild hosts such as rats and other rodents, raccoons, skunks and possums.
“Lepto can be spread by wildlife urine,” Troxel said. “With the flood, the wildlife urine could be spread to farms or water puddles where lepto hadn't been before.”
Symptoms of infection can include fever or lethargy, reduction in milk production or aborted calves. Disease prevention by vaccination is recommended.