Feeding cattle difficult following hurricanes

The LSU AgCenter is working closely with the Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association, state Department of Agriculture and Forestry and the Louisiana Farm Bureau to get affected cattle producers back on their feet along coastal Louisiana following hurricanes Ike and Gustav.

Bob Felknor, executive secretary of the Louisiana Cattlemen’s Association, said the policies and procedures used by AgCenter extension agents to distribute hay and feed have worked well in a difficult situation.

“The AgCenter and cattlemen worked together very closely,” Felknor said. “We’re using that as a model program to recommend to other areas affected by disaster.”

Felknor said Andrew Granger, Vermilion Parish county agent, was helping cattle owners after his own home was flooded by Hurricane Rita in 2005 and after Hurricane Ike this year.

“Andrew Granger was working with cattlemen as he was also addressing issues at his own house,” Felknor said.

Granger said the number of cattle affected this time is less than following Rita. That’s because cattle owners moved their herds ahead of the storms, and the number of cattle in the southern part of the parish had yet to return to the pre-Rita level.

He said the hay and feed distribution will help producers stay in business until they can figure out their long-term plans.

“That’s the purpose — to give them a window to find another option,” Granger said.

Granger expects many cattle owners will sell part of their herds, but older ones are likely to get out of the business.

“Many cattle owners could be forced to sell their herds,” Granger said. “And prices are down. This might be the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

The hay has been donated by South Louisiana farmers, he said, and shipped by LDAF and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Bulk feed was provided by People’s Moss Gin of St. Landry Parish. Granger said more hay is needed, and anyone who wants to make a donation should call his office at (337) 898-4335.

He said most cattle owners are putting their most stressed animals on the feed and hay.

A total of 75 people have applied for the help, and the applications are reviewed by a committee that determines the allocations based on need.

Granger said unlike after Hurricane Rita, no out-of-state hay and feed have been donated.

Calvin LeBouef, a cattle producer from Abbeville and an at-large vice president for the LCA, said a committee of cattle owners from across the parish has been appointed to review applications for hay and feed to make sure the distribution is fair and based on need.

“It’s not enough to make your cattle fat. But everyone who qualifies gets a little bit,” LeBouef said.

The biggest priority is getting hay to stranded cattle, he said.

Hay shipments are coming from Louisiana pastures, LeBouef said, but the high cost of fuel has prevented hay from being shipped from areas out-of-state.

Felknor said less cattle mortality has been reported this year than in 2005 because cattle owners now are aware of the threat from hurricanes to their herds in coastal areas, and they moved their herds in advance of this year’s storms.

He said 500 head of cattle in Plaquemines Parish remain stranded, and more than 3,000 are surrounded by floodwaters in Cameron Parish. National Guard helicopters and boats have been used to bring hay, feed and fresh water to those animals, he said.

But the problem of feeding relocated cattle and restoring pasture land flooded by saltwater will be as bad as the aftermath of the 2005 hurricanes, he said.

Stan Dutile, LSU AgCenter county agent in Lafayette Parish, has been working with the Vermilion Parish extension office for the past two weeks. He said the LSU AgCenter has recruited hay producers in surrounding parishes to provide bales to Vermilion Parish producers, and the LDAF has provided trucking.

Cattle owner Al Lee of Esther said the hay and feed are making a difference for his herd of 150 head.

“It’s helping us to hold on to our cattle so we don’t have to sell them right away,” Lee said after getting a load of feed. “Otherwise most of us would have nothing for our cattle to eat.”

Lee said his pastures were flooded from Hurricane Ike. Like many others, Lee had moved his herd to higher ground before Hurricane Gustav, and he kept them on the borrowed pasture when Ike developed.

He said the grass is thin on his friend’s pasture, and other producers are facing the same dilemma. He said the distribution system is working.

“It’s run as fairly as I think they can run it with the limited resources,” Lee said.

Lee said much of his fencing was uprooted by Ike’s surge.

“I had just gotten through with my fencing (from Rita) in August,” he said.

Vermilion Parish cattle producers are not alone. Ike’s tidal surge in Cameron Parish still has cattle stranded south of Vinton, according to Gary Wicke, LSU AgCenter county agent in Cameron Parish.

“They are working on getting a bridge fixed to be able to reach those herds,” Wicke said.

Military helicopters dropped hay in the days after Ike, and water wells have been restored, but getting feed to stranded herds remains a problem.

Wicke said cattle producers in Cameron Parish also face the problem of cattle moved to shared pastures. The marsh would normally serve as winter feeding grounds, he said, but that option has been eliminated for this year.

Wicke said the LSU AgCenter has worked with McNeese State University to provide donated hay and feed to producers there also.

Tommy Shields, LSU AgCenter county agent in Calcasieu Parish, said many cattle producers in the Calcasieu Parish area have helped Cameron Parish producers by providing pasture for the displaced cattle.

“That’s the way cattlemen work, neighbors helping neighbors,” Shields said.

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