Fire damage to cattle may be more than the eye can see

Mar 23, 2012

A recent range fire near Yuma, CO, kicked off what may be another droughtridden summer across the Midwest. The fire, on March 18, started south of Highway 34 between the towns of Eckley and Yuma, and quickly scorched 24,000 acres.

While still under investigation, it appears the fire started near a downed power line that had been blown over during high winds.

Approximately 24,000 acres of half grass/crop fields on private lands were burned, along with cattle. Three firefighters were injured and two homes were completely destroyed, along with fences, barns and outbuildings. And it all happened in a matter of hours with the help of 45 mile per hour winds and parched top soils.

Michael Fisher, Colorado State University Livestock Specialist told WLJ that it may be several weeks before they get a final count on cattle losses. “We anticipate that a lot of the cattle that made it through the fire won’t make it in the end,” he said.

The fire burned numerous hay stacks in the area, leaving ranchers looking for backup feed options. “Feed inventory losses are going to be huge once it’s added up,” Fisher said. Colorado Cattlemen’s Association has stepped up to help, providing hay donations, Fisher added.

Yuma County Emergency Manager Roger Brown told reporters that the fire toppled utility poles, killed cattle and other livestock, and caused widespread crop damage, mostly wheat that was just starting to come up.

“We’re trying to contact all of the residents of the burn area to try to determine the loss and the property damage. The biggest question now is about lost cattle. This is a tight-knit community and we have neighbors helping neighbors,” Yuma County Sheriff Chad Day said.

While the fire may be out, livestock that survived the smoke and fire may have a long road to recovery. According to Texas AgriLife Extension Services, smoke from fires can cause breathing problems for cattle, even if they are not actually caught in the fire.

Analyzing injuries to cattle following a wildfire is important to minimize losses, said Dr. Floron “Buddy” Faries, AgriLife Extension veterinarian in College Station. “It might look like they’ve made it and there was no visible physical damage,” Faries said.

“However, it’s important to have them looked at by a veterinarian as soon as possible because there could be secondary problems that lead to infections and further problems.”

Health disorders, such as burned eyes, feet, udders, sheaths and testicles, as well as smoke inhalation with lung inflammation and edema, are the most common problems, he said.

“One of the problems we’ve run into in the past is with the feet,” said Ron Gill, AgriLife Extension livestock specialist in College Station. “It may take 10 days to two weeks for the damage to start showing. The cattle will start sloughing the hoof wall and become crippled.”

Damage can also be done by livestock inhaling smoke, he said. Smoke can move for miles, and cattle that are not near the flames or heat could suffer some damage. Contact with burning grass, weeds and brush causes immediate burns, with severity determined by the degree of heat.

However, inhalation of smoke causes immediate irritation to the lining of the respiratory system, including nasal passages, trachea and lungs, Faries said. This can lead to inflammation, edema and emphysema, with the severity determined by the duration of inhaled smoke.

“The time it takes to cause damage might only have to be a few minutes with high quantities of smoke and may be hours in low quantities of smoke,” he said.

In addition, the lining of the eyelids and eyeballs can be irritated and lead to secondary infections which can be fatal, Faries said.

Other livestock should also be evaluated for possible health disorders and treatment or determining if the animal can be salvaged, or, for humane reasons, should be slaughtered or euthanized, he said.

The prognosis of mild cases may be good with treatment and will be cost-effective, Faries said. Monitoring should continue for weeks after the event, he said. Secondary complications could be indicated by a cough or cloudy eyes in the animals.

“Before these secondary complications of infection occur, immediate slaughter for human consumption may be the most appropriate, humane procedure,” Faries said. “Prior to slaughter, an antemortem inspection will be conducted by veterinary meat inspectors to determine safety and wholesomeness for human food.”

For more information on care of animals and pastures after wildfires, Agri- Life Extension has posted information on the Texas Extension Disaster Education Network, or EDEN, at http://texashelp.tamu. edu/004-natural/fires.php. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor