More than 8,000 fires have been raging across Texas and Oklahoma and causing devastation to humans and livestock. Cattle producers face an uphill battle dealing with the aftermath of fires on their livestock from a variety of illnesses and injuries.

Pfizer Animal Health veterinarian Glenn Rogers, DVM, MS, DABVP, has personal experience with these animal health issues as his family’s ranch in Palo Pinto County, Texas, has been in the thick of the fires the last few weeks in Possum Kingdom. Rogers went there initially to help his mother fight fires on a Friday evening on two of her ranches and wound up spending five days working to help save her structures and home. “Her home narrowly missed being destroyed,” he says. “About 75-80% of her land was burned and I had about a third of one leased ranch burn.” Fortunately, as far as Rogers knows, the only animal affected on his mother’s place was one newborn calf that suffered from smoke inhalation.”

North of there in Bowie, Texas, Arn Anderson, DVM, has also been dealing with cattle that have been through the fires. “We saw injuries that ranged from obvious burns (ears, feet, hair, tails, udders and scrotums) to signs of respiratory damage due to heat, ash, smoke and airborne toxins,” Anderson says. Rogers adds that eye damage, smoke inhalation with secondary pneumonia and consumption of toxic materials are other consequences of the fires

Assessing and treating cattle
Anderson and Rogers offer this information about health effects of smoke and fire on cattle and management strategies for them.

  • Respiratory problems can be immediate or appear two weeks later due to stress and damage to the respiratory tract's natural immune system.  After the fire if the wind picks up you will see a lot of ash and more respiratory infections and irritation. 
  • Veterinarians and producers will also see abortions, starving calves (due to udder damage) and in about 3-4 weeks the loss of feet. “Field veterinarians should look for obvious burns and the largest treatment option is deep and immediate culling to get the cattle to a slaughter facility within 48 hours,” Anderson recommends. “This is very difficult and will initially cause a lot of client resistance but it is required if they want any income on the cattle.
  • If cows have fire damaged teats, visible burns on the skin or feet they should be sent to slaughter immediately prior to a fever spike. “Severely fire-damaged cattle should be humanely euthanized immediately,” Rogers says. Treatment for affected cattle deemed salvageable should include a long-acting broad spectrum antibiotic. 
  • Early assessments and early decisions must be made for humane and economical reasons. “These early decisions can be very difficult due to the emotional aspect and tendency to delay decisions,” Rogers says. “This problem may be compounded by fire damage to handling facilities and fences, precluding the ability to administer treatment options or locate cattle in a timely manner.”
  • Fences are cut and gates are left open to allow better access for fire- fighting equipment and to prevent livestock from being trapped in fire/smoke. Commingling within herds and with neighbors frequently occurs. “Sorting through these situations may take weeks or more before fences can be repaired and cattle returned to their home operation,” Rogers says. “Obviously, this increases the possibility of disease transmission of things like trichomoniasis and other disease.”
  • Proper disposal of dead animals will also be an issue. This is important for public health reasons and can be tricky with local, state and federal regulations. 
  • “Veterinarians need to remember that many of the water sources and supply systems will be down and this proved to be a major concern in our county,” Anderson says. 
  • Many of the pastures will be burned at very high temperatures and the ground will be sterilized. Native grass will return very slowly and nutrition and stocking rates need to be discussed.
  •  “Lastly, let veterinarians know that the press will be everywhere and there is an acute need to manage public perception,” Anderson says. “We used our county law enforcement in this area and limited access to dead cattle until the situation was under control.”

For more information on care of animals and pastures after wildfires, click here.

All photos by Glenn Rogers, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP.