The state of Louisiana has had its fair share of natural disasters including the devastating Hurricanes Katrina and Rita followed by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, an oil spill in 2010, flooding of the Mississippi River last year, and the recent Hurricane Isaac.

But each time the state’s agriculture emergency systems are better prepared than the last, says Christine Navarre, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. “Unfortunately we’ve had much practice,” she says. “All of these events had impacts on cattle to varying degrees.”

In a Sept. 7report, "Preliminary Estimates of the Economic Impacts to Agriculture in Louisiana from Hurricane Isaac," Kurt Guidry, of the LSU Ag Center, notes that 201 cattle died, another 3,250 cattle were evacuated from the affected areas, and approximately 1,300 bales of stored hay were lost (in contrast, thousands of cattle perished during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita).

More than 18,400 acres of pasture were impacted. The report says the losses associated with livestock and forages were limited to coastal parishes, particularly those in southeastern Louisiana. It estimates cattle losses (from cattle that died and transportation costs of evacuation) topped $238,000.

Impact on cattle health
Even with best-laid plans, the storms can still have an impact on cattle health. Navarre says some cattle were evacuated prior to the storm and some evacuated after due to flooded pastures. She says thanks is in order for Texas that worked with Louisiana to facilitate temporary movements into their state. 

“There was record flooding from this storm in some areas worse than Katrina in some cases,” she says. “Some cattle were trapped in flood waters or debris and had to be euthanized. Many found high ground and were provided hay and fresh water. Reproductive losses and respiratory disease are anticipated in storm-stressed cattle.”

While the number of affected cattle were not as large as some other storms, it was not minor, either. “We had severe flooding even in areas that don’t usually flood, and that left livestock impacted,” Navarre says.

Navarre says the emergency responses are a coordinated effort between LSU AgCenter, Louisiana Department of Agriculture, Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association, Louisiana State Animal Response Team, local first responders, and in some cases assistance from the National Guard to allow ag assessments by county agents from helicopters as well as hay and water drops to stranded cattle. 

“We are constantly updating our plans and doing trainings,” Navarre says. “Coordinated planning and good communications are critical.  We get better each time we go through an event and each time we train and plan.”

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