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Spring Flooding: Preserving Your Ability to Care for Your Animals

Updated June 10, 2020

Russ Daly

Professor, SDSU Extension Veterinarian, State Public Health Veterinarian

When winter snowfall begins to melt, particularly in areas already saturated from previous summer and fall precipitation, severe spring flooding can be a real possibility.

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. Unfortunately, spring flooding coincides with calving time for most cow-calf producers in the Dakotas—an especially busy and stressful time even in a “normal” year. In the midst of all this activity, how can one prepare for possible floodwaters?

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, before mud makes this 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.

What supplies will be necessary to have at hand during calving season? Water over roads may make that last-minute trip to town three times as long or maybe impossible. 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.

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, 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.

Another task to complete prior to warmer temperatures is that of reviewing 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.

Whatever happens this spring, 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 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 is working to help stakeholders prepare for all the issues that arise as the waters rise in the spring. 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 resources during the event, and information on dealing with the aftermath.