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Friday, March 17, 2017

Livestock Care after a Wildfire

As of March 7, 2017 the National Drought Mitigation Center indicated on the U.S. Drought Monitor that most of northeastern Colorado is experiencing moderate drought. This, accompanied with seasonally windy conditions, sets the stage for dangerous wildfire potential. Some areas in northeastern Colorado have already been impacted by wildfire.

Some of the wind-fueled fires of northeastern Colorado come quickly and with little warning, sometimes catching livestock in its path. Livestock in the path of wildfires can suffer death, burns and smoke inhalation. It is important to remember that the effects of wildfires are not sometimes seen until several weeks after the fire. Producers with livestock injured by wildfire or subjected to smoke and dust inhalation should consult with their local veterinarian.

The immediate need for livestock after a fire is to have fresh water and feed. It is best to move them from the burned areas if possible. Hay can be contaminated with dust, ash and soot following a fire, which may decrease the palatability of the feed and even lead to some health complications. Likewise, soot, ash and erosion can contaminate water sources. Make sure feed and water are not contaminated and are free of debris.

The wildfires of northeastern Colorado have burned many grazing acres and haystacks. As producers look to the future, they may be faced with some challenging situations. Montana State University Extension published the following self-assessment questions for producers who have lost forage resources to wildfire.

· Are my animals losing weight or not performing adequately?
· What is the body condition score of my cows?
· Will I have to start to provide supplements?
· If the lack of forage continues, should I cull the least productive or “at risk” animals?
· What feeds are available to the ranch?
· Assuming that I will have to purchase supplemental feeds, are they available, and at what cost?
· Is one option to sell hay and buy back grain for limit feeding?
· Do I have the feed resources to allow for full feeding vs. supplementary feeding only vs. limit feeding of grain?

Producers should continue to monitor body condition as this can indicate adequate nutrition and underlying health conditions. Many generous donations of feed resources may come following a fire. The old adage of not looking a gift horse in the mouth is important, but does not override good nutrition principles. A quick lab analysis can check for high nitrates, TDN and protein levels important for any feeding plan.

To view the CSU Extension publications on caring for livestock before, during and after a disaster, visit the following website

For further information on livestock health care, nutrition and management, contact your county extension office.