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Producers need to make plans for moving feed and livestock to higher ground before flooding this spring.

North Dakota gears up for spring floods

Floodwaters often cut off livestock access to feed or water and prevent producers from reaching feed supplies.

North Dakota State University (NDSU) extension specialists are encouraging livestock producers in the region to make plans for moving feed and livestock to higher ground before flooding this spring.

While the latest flood forecast showed some improvements, many areas of North Dakota are projected to experience moderate to major flooding this spring, the specialists said. They noted that the greatest flood risks this year are expected to be on farms and ranches because of overland flooding. Due to the nature of overland flooding, many areas that typically do not flood may be flooded this year.

The National Weather Service also has a number of active flood warnings across South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa.

“Floodwaters can rise quickly, potentially cutting off access to feed and/or water for livestock,” warned Miranda Meehan, NDSU extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist. “Beef cattle out on pasture are especially susceptible to displacement by flooding.

“Although cattle will move to higher ground if possible, they may move to areas where rescue is not possible,” she said. “Trying to rescue cattle and other large livestock in deep-water situations is dangerous, and it can be deadly both to animals and people. Plans should be made weeks ahead of a potential disaster, with consideration given to pens, loading facilities, transportation, evacuation routes and final destination of livestock.”

Floodwaters often prevent producers from reaching feed supplies either directly or through damage to roads.

“Having feed supplies on hand is important because feed assistance may not be available during a flood,” said Karl Hoppe, NDSU extension livestock systems specialist based at Carrington Research Extension. “Producers should preselect sites on high ground for hay, emergency water supplies and fencing supplies or panels.”

Producers also need to be aware that moving feed may cause problems, the specialists said. For example, moving big, round hay bales to higher ground can result in hay loss because twine- or net-wrapped bales may be frozen to the ground. Also, road weight restrictions can limit producers’ ability to haul in new feed if they use co-products such as beet pulp, beet tailings or distillers grains to feed their cattle.

“Producers need to ensure accessible storage facilities and an adequate supply of feedstuffs,” Hoppe said.

While not all areas will experience flooding, mud is likely to be an issue on many farms and ranches this spring.

“Mud can reduce the insulation value of hair coats, increase energy requirements and increase the potential for footrot and other health issues,” NDSU extension sheep specialist Travis Hoffman cautioned.

Mud also may chill or trap newborn calves and lambs and can carry a variety of pathogens that can affect calves and lambs directly or through contact with dirty udders, he said.

“There are few options once muddy conditions are in place; therefore, preventive practices are key,” said Janna Block, extension livestock systems specialist based at NDSU’s Hettinger Research Extension Center.

Here is what the specialists recommend producers to do to lessen muddy conditions:

  • Scrape lots to maintain a 3-5% slope away from the feed bunk.
  • Reshape mounds to ensure quick drainage.
  • Move livestock to temporary feeding areas such as stockpiled pastures with adequate drainage or fields containing crop residue such as corn stalks.

“However, utilizing crop residue is not recommended due to the high risk for soil compaction, creating challenging planting conditions,” Meehan said.

“We recommend that producers evaluate their potential for flooding and plan accordingly,” Meehan said. “If you do not have access to higher ground, you may need to consider moving livestock off site until the risk of flooding subsides.”

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