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Preserving Your Ability To Care for Your Animals When Flooding Occurs

Updated March 11, 2021
Russ Daly

Russ Daly

Professor, SDSU Extension Veterinarian, State Public Health Veterinarian

small group of cattle on a small piece of dry land surrounded by flood waters. FEMA News Photo
Courtesy: FEMA News

Spring flooding after snowmelt, or after heavy rains at other times of the year, can create challenges for animals, as well as the people who take care of them.

Of the people witnessing the rising water, livestock producers and other animal caretakers have perhaps the most daunting task. It’s incumbent upon them to not only protect their family and home, but also their feed sources, outbuildings and their animals themselves.

Spring flooding can occur during calving time for many cow-calf producers in the Dakotas, which is an especially busy and stressful time even when floodwaters don’t threaten. Amid the activity of busy animal operations, how can one prepare for possible floodwaters?

Animal Care Considerations

Animals and Feedstuffs

First, animals and feedstuffs should be moved out of harm’s way to the greatest extent possible, meaning to higher ground. The earlier this can be done, the better, preferably before mud makes it impossible. In an emergency situation, livestock producers with limited areas of high ground should consider working with neighbors to share patches of ground or feedstuffs until conditions improve. Yes, inter-mixing of herds presents potential biosecurity and disease transfer issues, but sometimes there may be no other choice. Temporary fencing could be considered to keep animal groups separate.

Relocation Plans

In the unfortunate situation of having to evacuate homes or barns, is there a plan in place to relocate horses and tend to their care, or to care for family pets in the event of an evacuation? These questions should be answered well before the spring thaw, or other times of flood threats, so that decisions do not have to be made during the rush, panic and emotions of the moment. Information at SDSU Extension or the American Veterinary Medical Association websites will aid in the planning process.

Essential Supplies

What supplies will be necessary to have at hand based on the farm’s production cycle? Water over roads may make that last-minute trip to town three times as long or maybe impossible. For calving season, stock up on colostrum (or colostrum replacers/supplements), milk replacer, electrolytes and other treatments for scouring calves, along with necessary purchased feed. Electric fence materials are another item to stock up on, so they can be used to separate groups of animals or fence them away from problem areas.

Vaccination Schedules

Another task to complete is reviewing your animals’ vaccination schedules. Tetanus boosters for horses should be secured early in the season, as standing water and debris make exposure more likely. If dogs and cats will be due for (or are behind on) rabies boosters, those vaccinations should be done prior to the onset of expected flooding. Flood waters may roust out skunks and other wild animals from their normal habitat, making encounters more likely. All animals under care should be well-identified, which will make their recovery easier should they become separated.

Other Considerations

When considering the challenges of caring for animals during the threat of flooding, people should keep one thing foremost in their minds: ensuring their own safety and that of their family members. It is extremely important to do whatever possible for the animals in our care, but not at the risk of jeopardizing our own safety. Trying to rescue animals in freezing or rushing water is a dangerous proposition, and one that can put a person’s own life in peril. That’s only one reason why preparation for floodwaters, even if it turns out to have been unnecessary, is so important.

SDSU Extension has resources to help stakeholders prepare for all the issues that arise as the waters threaten to rise. The SDSU Extension flood page is a one-stop location for all topics related to flooding. This is a valuable resource for homeowners, property owners, farmers and ranchers by providing methods to prepare for flooding, access to resources during the event and information on dealing with the aftermath.