Fire Victims Should Test Water, Feed

Wildfire Risk Contained but Ongoing Caution Needed for Livestock

Jennifer Carrico
By  Jennifer Carrico , Senior Livestock Editor
A wildfire recently cut through the Hale Cattle Company near Miami, Texas. (Photo courtesy of Jett Hale)

REDFIELD, Iowa (DTN) -- After several weeks of burning, the Texas wildfires are 100% contained, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. Now, it's time for a full assessment of the land, including the safety of the water.

Andrew Whelton, professor of civil, environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University, told DTN it is important for everyone to assess water quality after a wildfire as water systems can become chemically contaminated.

"When examining water and water sources, signs of contamination could be from a power outage, loss of water pressure, discolored water, heat damage to components inside or outside buildings, broken and leaking pipes, valves, tanks or irrigation systems," he explained. "The main sources of chemicals in piped water after fires are plastic heat damage, debris entry and smoke entry into water systems."

Whelton said chemicals can enter water systems through water tank vents and physically damaged assets like pipes and tanks. Or they can leach from heat-damaged plastics into clean water and make it unsafe, as well as through open watering containers.

Water should be tested for safety and an alternate water source should be used until damaged systems are inspected and flushed, disinfected, repaired and retested.

To see more tips on what to look for when inspecting water systems, see the bottom of this story.


Whelton said he recently worked with wildfire victims in Hawaii and the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to do inspections and water system damage and contamination assessments, followed by guiding farmers and ranchers on how to make improvements to the water systems.

Testing of the Hawaiian water showed volatile organic compounds in several different kinds of water sources. Whelton suggested contacting local departments of agriculture for a list of approved water testing laboratories.


Besides needing fresh, clean water for livestock after the wildfires, it is important to have a good feed source. While the Texas fires are contained, they have left the destruction of 1,237,578 acres as of March 18, which was a lot of pasture grassland for cattle to graze. This leaves cattle producers looking for other feed sources.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said in a March 13 news release that more than 1,600 individual donations totaling $800,000 have already been made to the State of Texas Agriculture Relief (STAR) Fund to support relief efforts for Texas farmers and ranchers devastated by the wildfires. These donations will help with rebuilding and recovery and include expenses such as livestock feed, fencing repairs and other essential recovery efforts.

Miller told media that nearly 7,000 head of cattle have been confirmed dead after the fires, but many cattle are expected to be euthanized from further injuries. The surviving cattle will need feed, which has been coming in from other parts of the state and country.

Ron Gill, animal science professor at Texas A&M University, said ranchers need to have the proper source of hay and amounts needed for cows. Depending on the quality, he said they will consume about 2% to 2.6% of their body weight per day. It is important to give cows proper access to hay by either having numerous feeders or possibly unrolling hay on the ground.

It's also important to consider the type of cattle being fed when determining their nutrient demands. Young growing cattle, pregnant heifers approaching calving, and first-calf heifers and cows nursing calves have the highest needs. Mature cows in late pregnancy have lower needs, followed by cows in early pregnancy, mature bulls and dry cows. Higher-quality hay should be fed to those with higher demands and lower-quality hay to those with lower demands. If lower-quality hay is all that's available, Gill said those cattle could be supplemented with other feeds. Testing hay for quality can help prevent further problems and lets producers know what type of protein or energy supplementation would be needed.

Gill said range recovery is critical for the grass to come back after the wildfire. Cattle may need to be on supplemental hay and feed for an extended amount of time to allow this to happen.

If wheat pasture is used as a feed alternative, Gill cautioned that cattle should be on a mineral supplement to prevent risks of grass tetany and bloat.

Further recovery resources are available at:…

Other information on donating to wildfire victims is available at: "Agriculture Organizations, Producers Rally for Wildfire Victims,"….

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Water System Damage Inspection

The following are things to look for during an inspection:

-- The wellhead, well house, spring box and intake

-- The well/spring casing, cap, and seals

-- Wiring and electrical components

-- Above-ground piping or structures

-- Water treatment system

-- Pressure tanks, storage tanks, vents, overflow pipes, troughs, tubs and waterers

-- Standing water in tanks

-- Melted plastic components

Questions to Consider:

-- Is there evidence of pressure loss? One way to check this is to turn on an exterior faucet to see if there is water flowing or you hear air escaping from the system.

-- Is there ash or wildfire debris in or near the water system?

-- Does it seem like any ash, soot or debris has entered any part of the water system?

-- Do you notice other damage related to the fire?

Source: Center for Plumbing Safety at Purdue University

Jennifer Carrico