Advice for livestock farmers affected by flooding

Rapidly rising water levels can cut off access to livestock and mean they can’t get to safe lying areas or food. If fields are prone to flooding then, where possible, move livestock ahead of time to fields with suitable drainage and an area where animals can stand out of the mud or damp. Take extra care if livestock are usually kept near a river.

Provide clean water and plenty of food. Outwintering in wet and windy conditions can increase a cow’s energy requirement by up to 15%.

Feed spoilage

It is important to assess your feed for spoilage as it could be contaminated which can cause health problems through chemical toxicity or infections.

Listen to the webinar to find out how to assess the nutritional quality of flooded silage clamps/bales and explore options available for standing maize. 

Things to consider

  • Soil/dung contamination – soil may contain clostridia spores; and sewage and effluent contamination may lead to gut diseases such as Salmonella
  • Feed consumption and quality - poor energy and nutrient intake and low dry matter intake may lead to poor rumen function, acidosis and ketosis
  • Bales that have been standing in water may have their feed quality reduced and could be contaminated by water working its way between the layers of film on the bales
  • Introducing new feed - hungry animals will try to eat as much as possible. Changing from mainly pasture to high carbohydrate supplements like cereals, can cause rapid changes in rumen fermentation and there is a risk of developing acidosis, sometimes called grain overload, which can kill livestock

Checklist

Closely inspect bales for separation of the plastic layers and small holes. Assess these bales now so you can plan to source extra feed if necessary

Provide clean water and energy feeds to prevent ketosis

Introduce new feeds slowly. If stock are/were on pasture, introduce with hay or grass silage first and then gradually add other feeds

Assessing feed stocks

Use our Feed & Forage calculator to help you understand if you have a deficit based on current livestock numbers and feed supply, to allow you to make decisions about stock sales or purchasing of extra feed. The calculator can be used for baled and clamp silage.

Or, you can quickly work out the total dry matter available (t) using this calculation: (number of bales x bale weight (t) x DM%) ÷ 100.

As a guide:

5ft wide round bales = 0.63 t FW

6ft x 4ft rectangular bale = 0.35 t FW

Example:

 ABC 

Silage type

No. of bales

Bale weight

DM%

Tonnes (DM)

A x B x C/100

E.g. second cut grass silage

400

0.63

30

76

To work out the amount of silage in your clamp, you need to know the volume of clamped material (length x width x height) and the density of the silage. 

Our feed and forage calculator can estimate density for you. 

If you'd prefer to calculate intakes by hand, as a rule of thumb, dry matter intake (DMI) is 2–2.5% of bodyweight. To calculate silage intakes of dairy cattle, see Feeding+ Section 3, chapter 3:15

 

A

B

C

D

E

 

Type of stock

Number

Average liveweight (kg)

DMI

Daily requirements (kg)

A x B x C

Feeding period (days)

Total tonnes (DM)

D x E/100

Ewes

600

70

0.02

840

100

84

Suckler cows

80

600

0.02

960

150

44

Growing cattle

75

300

0.03

675

150

101

Total DM to be eaten (tonnes)

329

Safety margin – allow for losses (5‒10%)

33

Total tonnes of DM required

362

Water contamination

Floodwater could contaminate water supplies for livestock. The risk will depend on your source of supply and distribution network.

Provide your stock with a fresh trough of clean water or empty and clean existing troughs to discourage stock drinking from floodwater.

  • It may be necessary to test microbiological quality of water at the point of supply for contamination. AHDB Pork has produced guidance on taking samples for testing
  • Identify the source of the issue; is it on the public or private water supply system?
  • Find out if the issue is localised. Is it just your farm or the wider area? 
  • Let your water wholesaler and retailer know how you are affected 
  • Reduce your non-essential water usage and prioritise use for essential activities 
  • Be prepared to describe your daily water requirements. Use the Dairy Water Audit to help
  • Install sufficient, clean storage facilities to receive alternative water supplies, such as those delivered by tanker 
  • Depending how long your supply is interrupted, you may need to consider alternative options from specialist companies such as Water Direct and Wincanton

Manure and slurry

Excess water can cause leaching and runoff from livestock manures.

Remember that manure heaps shouldn’t be sited within 10 m of watercourses nor within 50 m of boreholes.

High rainfall over autumn and winter months can result in higher volumes than normal in slurry stores. This can pose problems later on, especially in NVZs when slurry has to be spread to prevent stores from over-topping.

The Environment Agency has provided advice for farmers facing difficulties with slurry storage which covers advice on temporary storage, reducing slurry volume and what to do if you need to spread to land.

Contact the Environment Agency on 03708 506 506,or out of hours or in the event of an emergency on 0800 80 70 60, if:

Housing

Damp conditions in housing can increase the risk of several conditions because it favours the survival of bacteria and viruses. Damp conditions are also stressful for animals, as they will have to burn additional energy to keep warm.

Things to consider:

  • More frequent scraping out and bedding down may be necessary, particularly in sheds where stocking densities are higher than usual
  • If you are forced to overstock sheds, are there ways to split animals into smaller groups according to size and age?
  • Avoid major changes to the ration until housing conditions are back to normal to keep stress levels as low as possible
  • Ventilation – fresh air is vital even in damp conditions to reduce numbers of circulating bacteria and viruses. However, make sure there are no draughts at animal level
  • Clean, dry, deep bedding will help stressed animals to stabilise body temperature more quickly
  • Consider alternative bedding if straw is in short supply, check the Bedding materials directory for information

Animal health

Standing in water and deep mud can predispose animals to, and aggravate, infections and diseases, such as foot rot.

Youngest, oldest and pregnant animals and those kept in high stocking densities will be most prone to stress and health issues. Discuss the conditions with your vet, who may be able to help to develop a control plan.

For in-depth technical information on the medium and long term effects of flooding, see APHA's report: Medium to long-term endemic disease risks associated with flooding events in Great Britain

Calving and lambing

The stress of flooding means cows and ewes are more likely to give birth early. Extra checks may be needed as animals may give birth without showing normal signs, e.g. not bagging up. Make sure newborn calves receive at least three litres of colostrum and newborn lambs receive 200 ml of colostrum within two hours of birth.

Metabolic diseases

Stress and poor access to feed during flooding will increase the risk of metabolic diseases, such as grass tetany, milk fever and ketosis.  Look at cows regularly and check for abnormal behaviour that can be a sign of metabolic disorders. 

Try to supplement dairy cows after calving with calcium and magnesium. This can be mixed in with feed and fed in-shed, or mixed with molasses and poured onto bales.

Hypothermia

Livestock that have been standing in deep flood water for prolonged periods in cold conditions without access to food may be at risk of hypothermia. Move to dry sheltered areas with access to feed and clean water as soon as practical - weak animals may benefit from covers.

Transport stress

You may need to transport stock to grazing or housing away from your holding during flooding. Transporting of stock and mixing with other livestock is very stressful from a physical and social point of view. Good feeding, watering and magnesium levels help.  You could provide calcium and an energy drench to freshly calved cows before and after travelling. The after effects of long distance transport are detectable for up to two weeks.

Mastitis

Damp bedding can harbour bacteria, which can increase the risk of mastitis. Infections can enter the udder through the teat canal at any time during lactation or during the dry period. There will be an increased risk of mastitis from environmental bacteria, e.g. E.coli or Strep uberis if animals are cold, wet and dirty.

When lambs and calves suckle from their mothers, the teat end is open and can stay dilated for up to two hours.

* Provide extra bedding - a clean, dry environment is essential to reduce the risk of bacteria entering through the teat canal


* Wash hands frequently and keep clothing clean - infections can spread between animals through contaminated hands or clothing


* When drawing milk from the udder to check for milk supply, collect in a container rather than squirting onto bedding

In wet or muddy periods, there are four key steps at milking: 

Wash and dry all teats before milking – use a pre-milking teat disinfectant and give it enough time to act. On wet or muddy days, wash and dry every teat with one paper towel per cow.

Strip cows every day to detect clinical mastitis cases – treat promptly and isolate.

Make sure post-milking teat disinfectant covers 100% of teat skin on every teat of every cow.

Teat canals remain open for an hour after milking. Set up feeding and other routines so cows don’t lie down soon after milking so that teats are more likely to be clean for an hour after milking.

For more information on Mastitis in cattle, see Managing mastitis and the Mastitis Control Plan. For information on sheep, see BRP+ Understanding mastitis in sheep.

Pneumonia

High stocking rates, damp housing and poor air quality can increase the risk of respiratory disease. Continue to provide fresh air and freedom from draughts.

Lameness

The hoof-horn and interdigital skin can soften in wet, muddy conditions. This can lead to footrot in sheep and digital dermatitis and ‘foul of the foot’ in cattle. Extra walking in wet conditions will increase lameness cases.

Remain calm and patient when handling. Animals will place their feet carefully if given time to walk at their own pace, which will reduce wear and injuries to softened hooves.

Both cattle and sheep may be more prone to puncture wounds, white line disease and abscesses in wet conditions. Use the Lesion recognition and trouble shooter guide to identify conditions in cattle. For more information on lameness in sheep, see Reducing lameness for Better Returns. Consult your vet for a treatment and control plan.

Cow tracks are likely to be damaged and repair may take some time – look at options for preventive maintenance if risk of flooding is high.

Parasites

Wet, muddy fields provide an ideal habitat for the mud snail involved in the maintenance of the life cycle of liver fluke. The survival of other parasites may be enhanced in wet conditions and lead to problems in the next grazing season.

Additional stress may increase the impact of existing parasite burdens or trigger more severe clinical signs, e.g. Type 2 Ostertagiasis. For more information on parasite control in cattle, visit the COWS website and for sheep, visit SCOPS.

Once floods have receded:

  • Check bales which have been moved by the floods for holes in the wrap - even very small holes will have taken in water
  • Keep a tally of numbers of damaged bales and use the feed and forage calculator to calculate your feed requirements 
  • If you have to feed damaged bales, you can do some quick checks to assess the damage to the nutritional quality - watch this webinar to find out how
  • It is likely there will be changes in the flooded soil’s nutritional status, due to leaching and soils being removed or deposited. This may change its texture, pH and the amount of organic matter present. Soil tests may be needed in the spring
  • It is likely that weeds will take advantage of new grass leys caused by flooding, in the year of the flood and in subsequent years. Be prepared to action in the spring to reduce negative impact
  • Check your pastures and streams for potentially poisonous plants or other material, e.g. the roots of Water Dropwort which may be exposed after heavy water flow or rainfall and may be very toxic to grazing animals
  • Pastures contaminated with silt/sewage will have reduced palatability and intakes may be lower
  • Check the water supply for damage and contamination with silt. Drain and clean out contaminated water troughs