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Livestock Care during Flood Conditions

Rescuing Stranded Animals

The flood waters that swept through southwestern Washington recently have left hundreds of farm animals stranded in mud and water. WSU Extension educators Susan Kerr and Dale Moore urge caution for those working to rescue livestock:

  1. Be sure you have a place to take the animal once it’s rescued.
  2. Only attempt rescuing an animal if you have some experience in handling that species of animal. Seek assistance from those with experience, if you don’t have it yourself.
  3. Put no humans in danger.
  4. Be sure the path you intend to lead the animal over is safe. If the area is still flooded, there can be unseen hazards such as holes, sharp metal or other debris.

Taking Care of Surviving Livestock

What is the best way to take care of livestock that survived the recent southwestern Washington flooding? WSU Extension educator Susan Kerr offers the following advice:

“Surviving animals’ most urgent needs will be clean water, then calories, and then dry shelter. Grain will be easier to come by and transport than hay, especially when it was already in tight supply this year.”

If hay is unavailable, Kerr recommends feeding frequent, but small, meals of grain to livestock. “Grain is great when it comes to meeting the energy needs of animals, but too much of a good thing, in this case, can be dangerous. Too much grain can cause bloat, diarrhea, founder and even death, so use grain with caution if it is the only feed you can get. It’s hard to go wrong with feeding hay, but it may be extremely difficult to find in flooded areas.”

Kerr cautions against feeding livestock hay or any other feed that has been in contact with flood waters because of the biological, chemical and physical hazards. She also notes that dangerous molds can develop in wet feed that wasn’t destroyed by flood waters.

Whose Animal Is This?

Many livestock animals were washed away from their home farms during the high flood waters, leaving some landowners with animals, living and dead, on their property. According to WSU Extension educator Dr. Susan Kerr, there are several ways to identify an animal and find its owner.

“Many farm species such as cattle and sheep will have visible ear tags,” Kerr said. Other animals may have tattooed inner ears (sheep, goats, cattle), tail webs (goats), inner thighs (dogs) or upper lips (thoroughbred horses). Some livestock and many small animals (dogs and cats) may have microchips that can be read by scanners at veterinary clinics or rescue shelters. Cattle and horses may have brands as well. For information on how to read brands or how to find the owner of a branded animal, contact the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s Livestock Brand Inspection Program at 360-902-1855 or

“If you’ve found an animal and would like to locate its owner, look at the animal carefully and create a good description. Include where the animal was found, species, breed, body color, size, identification tags or tattoos, gender (female, male or neutered male), markings such as ‘white stockings’ or ‘white blaze’ and an age estimate if you can,” Kerr advises. Create a flier and post it in public places, veterinary offices, livestock sale yards and farm stores. “In a public event such as this, radio stations and newspapers may set time and space aside to help reunite animals and owners and you could send your information there as well.” Be sure to ask for identification and proof of ownership before relinquishing a found animal to anyone claiming to be its owner.

Another resource for brand information is the state veterinarian’s office in Olympia at 360-902-1878.

Disposing of Animal Carcasses

We know from many news reports and other sources of the loss of people’s lives and loss of homes because of the severe flooding of the west side of the state.

But there also have been hundreds of animals killed and displaced. Those animals, such as dairy cows, that did not survive need to be disposed of to protect other animals and public health.
Some animals already have been disposed of by burying, but the Washington Department of Ecology indicates that the preferred method of disposal is through a landfill. They are working with a disposal company to haul the remains to the landfill. Independent collectors also have been contacted to haul animals from the farm to a collection point. Disposal costs are expected to be paid through federal disaster funds and state funds.

The state departments of Health, Agriculture and Ecology are assisting Lewis and Thurston counties with the safe disposal of animal carcasses. The total number and types of animal deaths is unknown. Transfer locations to receive small and large carcasses have been designated in Lewis County, and some of the containers are already full. The contractor will begin transporting the containers to the designated landfill Dec. 10.

The Washington Department of Agriculture also is working to verify the loss of animals, so that producers eventually can receive financial assistance to rebuild their herds.