Spring rains create some concern, mostly benefit
“There is always a cost for moisture, and the benefit always outweighs the cost,” states Veterinarian Donald Cobb of Casper.
According to the National Weather Service, the state of Wyoming received anywhere from one-quarter inch to seven inches of rain, depending on the area, May 18-25. In the two-week time frame leading up to May 25, no part of the state received less than an inch of rain.
“We are fortunate compared to other areas because we have had softer rains. In Texas and Oklahoma, they had five to eight inches of rain in one day,” comments Cobb.
Luckily, Wyoming’s rain has fallen more evenly, causing less severe problems than the hard and heavy rains that other states have seen.
“Our flooding has been pretty minor compared to some other areas of the country, and the problems we have seen with this moisture are basically negligible compared to the benefit,” he says.
Some flooding has been an issue, though, and producers have had to address the location of their livestock.
“We dealt with flooding all weekend at our place,” comments University of Wyoming Extension Beef Specialist Steve Paisley, who had to move all of his cows. “In our case, we’ve been moving cattle to higher ground, and we will have to fence everything back in when the water goes down.”
Cobb notes that flooding can be a concern for producers, especially if livestock don’t have access to dryer areas.
“Flooding is a major problem, especially when it’s a flash flood situation. There are a lot of times that livestock don’t have the ability to get to high enough ground,” he says.
Livestock may also be in danger when thunderstorms pass over the wide-open spaces of Wyoming.
“Horses and cattle can be perfect lightning rods,” Cobb notes, adding that animals do not survive when they are struck by lighting.
Unfortunately, there is not much producers can do to protect their animals from strikes unless they can move animals inside, getting them out of the weather.
“Especially in flat areas where the animals may be the highest thing in the area, there is not a whole lot we can do,” Cobb explains.
Usually, when livestock are struck, the charge does not travel further than an individual animal.
“Horses sometimes tend to have a bigger problem than other animals because a strike can go through a closely packed group and do damage to more than one animal, but generally it’s only an individual,” he comments.
According to data produced by Vaisala, Inc., Wyoming received an average of 304,973 annual cloud-to-ground flashes of lighting between 1997 and 2010. The average density in the time period was 3.1 cloud-to-ground flashes per square mile.
“I’ve seen some lightning deaths already this year,” notes Cobb.
Another result of Wyoming’s wet spring is the ample plant growth that has occurred throughout the state.
“Based on the timing, we may have a flush or rapid growth of larkspur, lupine, death camas and some of our other toxic plants,” mentions Paisley.
Luckily for livestock producers, many beneficial species have also been growing well.
“Normally, it’s a problem when the toxic plants stand out. We’re certainly going to see a growth of those plants, but we will have so much overall forage produced that I doubt we will notice many problems,” Paisley continues.
Cobb explains that poisonous plants could have been more of a problem earlier in the season, because they are often the first ones to green up.
“We had enough growth of the grass before we started getting rain so now we’ll have mostly grass growth. Once the grass has started, livestock are going to eat it preferentially,” Cobb says.
One other concern that producers may face is the possibility of foot issues, as the rain continues to fall.
“We can see bruising, abscesses and maybe some foot rot,” Cobb notes. “When livestock are in the mud, it’s like when we put our hands in water for a long period of time and our fingernails get really soft – it’s the same principle.”
An organism in the soil causes foot rot, and livestock are more prone to exposure when the soil is wet.
“The organism is pretty common in the soil. It’s not as common as it used to be, but it’s still a problem,” he says.
Pneumonia is one other health issue that can crop up, especially in young animals when there are excessive cold rains, but Cobb notes that this spring has not been overly cold.
“The rain that we’ve had has been pretty warm. Consequently, we aren’t going to see a whole lot of problems associated with it,” he states.
Both Cobb and Paisley note that overall, this season’s spring moisture benefits Wyoming and the state’s livestock producers.
Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.