MANHATTAN, Kan. – Among those hit hard by last week’s wildfire outbreak are the surviving beef cattle. From mild surface burns to debilitating hoof injuries, ranchers and veterinarians are teaming up to render care and compassion.
Last week’s outbreak of wildfires in Kansas burned hundreds of thousands of acres of land, destroyed homes and other infrastructure, and placed many cattle ranchers in the unenviable position of having to euthanize thousands of animals with insurmountable injuries.
The cows, calves and bulls that are left may need extraordinary amounts of care, said A.J. Tarpoff, a beef veterinarian with K-State Research and Extension. Topping the list of concerns are the orphaned calves.
“Regardless how they lost their mothers, we have some hungry calves that need some solid base nutrition and we need to step up and give some extra care for these young calves,” said Tarpoff. “Fostering or grafting these calves onto another mother is our best bet, but unfortunately we may not have that option. The next step is turning them into bucket calves.”
The best milk replacement formulas should follow a 20-20 rule — 20 percent crude protein and 20 percent crude fat. Tarpoff said to look for animal protein bases because they work best, but the sudden demand may mean using whatever is available.
“A good frame of reference is two quarts, twice a day,” he said, “and they need access to clean, quality water at all times.”
Bucket calves can be transitioned to a starter feed relatively soon. Caregivers should offer starter feeds early on, at every feeding, and let the calf make the decision. “Once they’re consuming two to three pounds a day of the starter feed for two to three days in a row, we can actually wean them off the milk replacement, and transition them straight onto the calf starter feed,” said Tarpoff.
For calves, heifers, cows and bulls, there can be lingering, long-term consequences from injuries sustained in the fires. These could range from surface burns to eye and ear damage as well as respiratory damage from smoke inhalation. Tarpoff said the first concern for all these animals should be the feet. Hooves and feet that look normal now could succumb to latent damage. The next 10 days to three weeks are critical, and animals should be closely monitored.
“Initially, from the high temperatures of the fire we saw some separation and cracking in what’s called the coronary band — that’s where the hoof transitions to the skin, where the hair starts. Over the next couple weeks, even some slight damage initiated during the fire can develop into really severe laminitis.”
Laminitis can include cracks in the hoof wall, and separation of the hoof from the foot. “When we see that kind of damage,” said Tarpoff, “immediate euthanasia is necessary.”
Surface burns to skin and hair are not that different from burn injuries suffered by people or other animals, Tarpoff said. Composition of the burned skin will change and eventually slough off, but the tender new skin underneath will be at risk of secondary bacterial infections. “I would highly recommend working with your local veterinarian — they may have access to certain types of burn cream that can be used for some of these tender areas, so work with your veterinarian.”
Even minor burns can cause trouble for breeders.
“We need to pay special attention to the undersides of the animals, the udders on cows and the testicles and sheaths of our breeding bulls,” Tarpoff said. “Even if our bulls have already been reproductively tested to be able to breed this season, even if their burns aren’t severe, it’d be a good idea to retest these bulls to make sure that they are fit for this upcoming breeding season.”
Perhaps the injuries that will cast the longest shadow over the lives of surviving animals are respiratory damage from heat and smoke inhalation. “Those airways are pretty sensitive to heat and smoke, and the natural mechanisms help clean and maintain the respiratory system can sustain damage, sometimes beyond repair,” Tarpoff said. “It will take at least a month for an animal to fully heal from that kind of injury, and we’ll need to monitor that progress.”
Tarpoff said that antibiotics and respiratory drugs are available to help these animals heal from respiratory diseases and conditions, and that producers shouldn’t be shy about asking for help.
“There’s a lot of people donating their time, their efforts, their feed … a lot of people working together to make sure that we get back going as soon as we can, and the veterinary community is standing ready to help,” said Tarpoff.