It's been more than two months since Hurricane Katrina destroyed the Gulf Coast shores of Mississippi and Louisiana. News crews have covered the stories of the millions of people displaced in the cities of New Orleans, LA, and Biloxi, MS. But, those cities only account for part of the story.

Hundreds of thousands of cattle and other livestock were displaced — and left with little feed and fresh water. Resilient producers resorted to hauling water and trying to rescue stranded animals.

In the hurricane's aftermath, James Hawkins, Merial associate director of professional services and a resident of southern Mississippi, visited area farmers to see the extent of the damage and offer aid.

“It's taken a lot of team work to make it through this catastrophe,” Larry Jefcoat, a cattle producer in Soso, MS, told Hawkins. Jefcoat lost a hay barn, two chicken houses and most of his fences and trees were knocked over.

Jefcoat says families and neighbors banded together after the hurricane to clear trees and repair buildings and fences.

“There was no water or power, so we had to help each other haul water from the local creek so our cattle would survive,” he says.

Some affected producers are opting to sell out, but most Delta producers intend to clean up and rebuild. Among the latter is Peter Tims, a 78-year-old cattle producer from Poplarville, MS. Located 50 miles from the Gulf Coast, Tims and his wife rode out the hurricane in their basement.

“We just watched the trees go down as the wind picked up,” Tims says. “It laid most everything down.”

“We were without electricity for 17 days,” he adds. “No water, no lights, no toilet, no cooking, nothing. It really was a trying time — especially at our age.”

With media sources, they didn't know the extent of the damage to New Orleans — only 65 miles away — until power was restored 2½ weeks later.

Tims lost fences, most of the trees on his property, and five barns. Luckily, all the cows from his 160-head, cow-calf operation survived.

Though a full accounting of livestock hasn't been completed, Mississippi officials believe losses aren't significant — maybe 1%. The majority of the damage was done to barns, trees and fences, according to the Delta Farm Press.

Relief efforts

Cattlemen and agricultural groups around the country continue to donate time, money, equipment and products to relief efforts and cleanup.

Elmo Collum, a Mississippi State Extension agent, says the relief center at the Forest County Multipurpose Complex in Hattiesburg has been overwhelmed by donations and volunteers from all over the country.

“People and organizations from all over the country ask, ‘What do you need?’ and then they make it happen,” Collum says. “I could try to name all the individuals, states and organizations that contributed, but I'm afraid I'd miss someone.”

The following is a short list of agricultural groups that have organized donations for farmers in the Delta area.

  • Texas Cattle Feeders Association, Livestock Marketing Association of Texas and Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association are working to raise $1 million — including cash donations, special relief sales, sales of feeder cattle, etc.

  • National Cattlemen's Beef Association and state affiliates are collecting cash and materials for farmers who lost fencing, water troughs and other facilities. Donations are being coordinated by the National Cattlemen's Foundation, working with the Louisiana and Mississippi cattlemen's associations to distribute the supplies and funds.

  • Massey Ferguson donated equipment totaling more than $500,000. AGCO Finance is providing special assistance to customers needing payment extensions.

  • The Livestock Marketing Association (LMA) and member markets are collecting donations. LMA's executive committee committed $30,000 to a market relief fund.

  • Several animal health care companies donated products and services to veterinarians to control animal diseases/ailments caused by the hurricane. For example, Merial donated $130,000 worth of Tetradure 300 Injection to treat infectious dieases.

  • Farm Bureau established the Farm Bureau Hurricane Ag Fund to donate to farm families and rural communities. So far, more than $200,000 has been collected.

If your organization has contributed to the Katrina effort, e-mail Stephanie Veldman at sveldman@primediabusiness.com and a more complete list will be included in an upcoming issue of BEEF.