No matter where storms or fires hit, the livestock industry approaches recovery with the same spirit and generosity. Neighbors helped each other rebuild fences and herds whether it was after a wildfire in Colorado or a once-in-a-lifetime blizzard in South Dakota.

It comes as no surprise the country’s cattle exhibit the same hardiness. In many cases, surviving livestock quickly got back on track to perform with their peers. Veterinarians, cattlemen and extension experts on the front lines of natural disasters share common experiences and techniques that helped cattle weather storms.

Expect Respiratory Disease

A common theme among cattle surviving natural disasters of any kind is a compromised immune system. The stress of the storm, and time without consistent food or water, is stressful and can leave animals vulnerable to disease.

In South Dakota, cattle were battling respiratory disease for four weeks after the early October blizzard that dropped up to four feet of snow on some parts of
the state.

“We had reports of an increase in respiratory disease, especially in calves that went through the blizzard,” says Russ Daly, DVM, MS, DACVPM, extension veterinarian and associate professor for South Dakota State University. “This storm was unusual in that we had calves involved that were out on pasture.”

Typically, the state’s calves are weaned and sold long before the first major winter storm. The blizzard, called Atlas, was an early- season storm preceded by 48 hours of rain. The already wet cattle then experienced a quick temperature drop along with snow and wind.

Even with this unique storm and its devastating losses, surviving cattle reacted as they would to other stressors, Dr. Daly says.

“Cattle are pretty resilient,” he says. “It’s not going to be very unlike the normal stresses that calves would go through in a transportation or weaning stress. In the weeks afterward, there’s an uptick in respiratory disease. Cattle that are raised out there are from hardy stock. They are used to being in the elements. We didn’t see every animal affected.”

Scott Cammack, DVM, at Northern Hills Veterinary in Sturgis, S.D., says his producers treated all surviving cattle with antibiotics right after the storm. Most respiratory issues were in the calves. In addition, antibiotics helped treat lacerations cattle acquired from drifting through fences.

Immediate treatment helped get calves—and gains—back on track, Dr. Cammack says.


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“My folks have a ranch, and we sold our steer calves three weeks after the storm,” he says. “They weighed more than they ever weighed. We tried to be proactive, we treated the herds that were hurt the worst. We were trying to be there and get the right things in people’s hands. At this point, I think everything that’s alive is doing well.”

Winter storms are common for northern cattlemen and veterinarians. However, no one could have prepared for this blizzard.

None of us have experienced anything like what we went through that first weekend,” Dr. Daly says. “Being a former practitioner, I’ve seen some really bad winters. Even then, we had some breaks to get animals taken care of and fed.”