After the Flood

Texas Cattlemen Along Gulf Coast Work to Recover From Spring Floods

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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The biggest concern for cattlemen who had cattle survive flooding is leptospirosis and clostridial diseases, according to Corrie Bowen, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for Wharton County, Texas. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Larry Winkelmann has never seen flooding like he has seen this spring. The 68-year-old cow/calf producer from Burton, Texas, located halfway between Houston and Austin, saw about 400 acres of his grassland under water earlier this month.

"I have lived here my whole life and this is the worst flooding I have ever seen," Winkelmann told DTN. "We had 18 to 25 inches of rain in our area earlier in June, and there just was nowhere for all that water to go."

While Winkelmann was able to move cows from low-lying pastures before heavy rains came, not all livestock producers in southeastern Texas were as fortunate. Several counties in the Gulf Coast region report some amount of livestock lost to the flooding; some animals drown and some ran loose after heavy rains took out fences.

TOO MUCH RAIN

Flooding has been an issue in the region for several months now. Corrie Bowen, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for Wharton County, said heavy rains in mid-April caused the Colorado and San Bernard Rivers in his county to flow out of their banks.

Crops along those rivers were destroyed and livestock in these areas had to be moved. Wharton Livestock Auction Barn provided their facility as a large animal shelter for horse and cattle owners needing a place to relocate their animals out of potentially flooded areas, he said.

"We had confirmed losses of cattle on the Colorado and San Bernard Rivers," Bowen said.

Then another roughly 20 inches of rain fell in the Brenham area around Memorial Day, which flooded the Brazos River and created flooding downstream into Fort Bend and Brazoria counties. Brazoria County just began staging down livestock relief efforts in late June, he said.

Tom A. "Andy" Vestal, director of emergency management programs for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, said in an email to DTN that USDA Farm Service Agency county emergency boards have not completed assessments on livestock deaths from these widespread flooding events. The death loss reports will be reflected in the USDA Livestock Indemnity Program, he wrote.

Tommy Charbula, Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) special ranger for eight counties southwest of Houston, said there will certainly be some death loss from the flooding in his district, but he has no idea of the number of head lost to rising waters. Right now he is busy trying to get cattle rounded up and back to their owners.

"Cattle in Texas have to be branded and these brands are on record on the county they graze in but it is not enforced, so we have quite a few cattle being taken in which are not branded, and then we have to try to find their owners," Charbula said.

In these cases, local authorities consisting of Extension agents and law enforcement work with cattlemen to try to see if they know whose cattle are whose. Most will know generally what their neighbors' cattle look like, and this helps get most cattle back to the correct owners.

Charbula said in his decades as a special ranger, roughly 90% to 95% of cattle rescued after flooding are claimed by their owners after the event. The remaining animals held for six months, ads are run in the local paper that these cattle are still being held and then if no one claims them the cattle are sold at local livestock sale barn and the county keeps the proceeds of the sale.

"This is not a moneymaker for them as most counties are lucky to break even on these deals because of the amount of feed they have to purchase to feed the livestock," he said.

CATTLE HEALTH CONCERNS

Most of the cattle rescued appear to be in decent physical shape, Charbula said. Some had cuts and scrapes while others were limping, but for the most part, the cattle appear to be fairly healthy.

Bowen said the biggest concern for cattlemen who had cattle survive flooding is leptospirosis and clostridial diseases. Mature cows who have annual booster shots should have some protection for these diseases, but calves are more vulnerable to these diseases after potentially standing in less-than-clean floodwaters.

"Calves are more susceptible to diseases like blackleg because they are too young to develop an immunity past what they obtain at birth from their mothers," Bowen said. "Many of the calves born in January and February along the upper Texas Gulf Coast were just barely old enough (3 to 4 months old) for their first injection of a 7-way or 8-way blackleg vaccine."

Bowen said he recommends cattlemen with animals exposed to floodwaters consult with their veterinarian on whether or not to consider treating for leptospirosis and clostridial diseases.

Winkelmann, the Burton, Texas, cattleman, said he did not lose any cattle as he knew to move cattle out of lower pastures before the heavy rains came. While he had about 400 acres of grass of his total 1,500 acres under water at one time, right now he estimates only about 150 to 200 acres are still flooded.

"We don't have a lot under water right now," Winkelmann said. "We have the Cedar Creek run through our land, and with these heavy rains and flooding, it has managed to change the course of the creek in some places."

He was able to run his roughly 225 cows on the rest of his land without having to feed hay. His cattle numbers are still down from the 2011 drought, which has helped him in this situation. Winkelmann continues working on getting back to his pre-drought number of around 300 to 350 head.

About the only year his area has seen this much flooding was in 1991, he said. That year also saw heavy rains which flooded some of his grasslands. The good news for him then was his fields recovered quickly after the flood receded and he was able to graze the next year. He thinks the same situation will occur with this year's flooding.

Winkelmann said that once the flood waters are gone, he will have some fences to rebuild in his low-lying pastures. While some cattlemen will have several miles of fence to build, he estimates he will have about 2 to 3 miles to rebuild once the ground dries out.

"We had the worst drought I had ever seen in 2011, and now just five years later we have had the worst flood I have ever seen," he said. "It seems like we get the extremes in our country."

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

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(CZ/AG)

Russ Quinn