Producers should be aware of the herd health concerns that can be associated with cattle standing in moist conditions for long periods of time. (Journal photo by Lacey Newlin.)

Spring 2019 consisted of heavy rains, flooding, hail and tornados and left residents wondering if they should be gathering two of every animal to load on the ark. Cattle were literally swimming in pastures, wheat was underwater and roads washed away.

Although much of the floodwater has now receded with some sunny days, health concerns for livestock originating from rainfall still persist.

“While wet conditions lead to great forage growth, it can also lead to prime conditions for both external parasite loads, as well as an uptick in common pasture health concerns,” said Dr. A.J. Tarpoff, an assistant professor and Extension beef veterinarian at Kansas State University.

Tarpoff says producers should have a plan in place to control horn flies, stable flies, foot rot and other ailments in cattle. Flies are commonly associated with rainfall, and are considered bothersome but also extremely costly to producers. Tarpoff says horn flies alone can cost the beef industry $1 billion a year.

“For horn flies, the economic threshold is 200 to 300 flies per animal,” Tarpoff said. “If the flies cover the withers of the cow down to the elbow, that is about 300 flies. As for stable flies it only takes about five flies per leg to cause an economic impact. We can visualize the effect of stable flies by the stomping of feet and constant agitation. Work with your local veterinarian to develop a comprehensive external parasite control program.”

Tarpoff says the control program may include feed through larvicide or insect growth regulators, insecticide ear tags, topic sprays or pour-ons, or use of dusters or oiler rubs. According to Tarpoff a multi-factorial approach is often needed combat these pests.

Horn flies do develop resistance to insecticides, so discuss proper rotation of products with your veterinarian. Environmental management can help in breaking the lifecycle of stable flies as well.

“They lay eggs in undisturbed decaying organic matter,” he explained. “Old bedding and feeding areas from winter, spilled feed around feed bunks, undisturbed manure packed alleys and tall weeds along fence lines can all be prime breeding areas for stable flies. Cleaning these areas by dragging, composting and cutting or spraying weeds can all help control stable fly populations.”


A muddy mess

After the heavy rains, a majority of the pasture cattle could be spotted standing in ponds, creeks, draws or flooded areas. Either they could not find a dry area or they were purposely standing in water to cool off on a hot day or obtain some relief from the pesky flies. However standing in water opens cattle up to an abundance of new and challenging problems sure to impact the cattlemen and their bottom line.

“If pasture cattle consistently stand in water, it can lead to some undesired consequences,” Tarpoff said. “The skin between the toes of cattle can soften when exposed to constant moisture. The soft hide is predisposed to scratches or wounds which allows the bacterial causes of foot rot to bypass the protective layer of skin leading to the infection.”

Tarpoff says proper supplementation of trace minerals can help with skin and hoof integrity during wet periods, but keeping cattle from standing in high moisture environments is also an important step to stop the spread of foot rot.

“Have a plan in place to quickly and efficiently treat cases of foot rot,” he added. “As the disease progresses, the underlying structures of the foot can be impacted by the infection. These cases require a more extensive treatment regimen for recovery.”

Tarpoff says another problem associated with cattle standing in ponds specifically is the damage to the pond itself. He says cattle can also erode banks of ponds overtime, leading to decreased water quality in the farm pond.

One danger producers often fail to consider is spore-forming bacteria, which Tarpoff says can always be a threat following flooding events. In fact, these bacteria can survive for years in the ground, but when something stirs them up, such as a flood, they can wreak havoc on a herd of cattle.

“The disturbed soil can bring bacterial spores to the surface where cattle can be exposed,” he explained. “Blackleg, tetanus and anthrax are potential pathogens following receding waters.”

It is crucial to always contact your veterinarian if sudden death in cattle occurs after flooding events.

“Proper diagnosis is important not just for herd health, but also for proper response. Anthrax for example, is a reportable disease in the state of Kansas, and field necropsy is typically not recommended due to exposure risk. Work with your veterinarian to ensure your herd is properly vaccinated against these common Clostridial diseases.”

Lacey Newlin can be reached at

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