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Caring for Livestock During and After Flooding



Black cow in a muddy pen

Make a plan that represents your flood risk as it relates to your livestock housing and pasture accessibility. Options may include safety in enclosed structures, higher pasture ground, evacuation to higher elevation, or relocation to local alternatives such as auction barn, fairgrounds, etc.

Unconfined livestock can usually take care of themselves during floods. Do not let them become trapped in low-lying pens. A number of safety precautions can be taken for animals housed in barns during a flood.

A necessary evacuation from shelter to a safer place may be necessary in emergency. If flooding arises in traditional livestock buildings, animals have a greater chance of survival outside. 

Be sure animals are evacuated before floodwaters enter barns and other enclosed livestock areas. Animals sometimes refuse to leave during a rapid rise of water and may drown inside if the water rises high enough.

In broad, level flood plains where floodwaters are rarely deeper than 3 or 4 feet, you may plan to build mounds of soil on which livestock can stay until floodwaters recede. Locate mounds on higher ground where they will not be washed away by fast-flowing water.

Facilities and fence fixing post-flood will require efforts to prioritize keeping affected livestock together. Temporary fencing and shelter may offer flexibility in management during tough times. Attempt to minimize overcrowding as situation allows.



Hay bales in a flooded field

Flood impacts can affect livestock health in the near and long-term. Lack of nutrition along with the increased stress and immunity challenge, may predispose to infectious disease.

Clean water can be a challenge. Flood waters may be reservoirs for bacteria, viruses and parasites. Securing clean drinking water shortly after a flood event for rescued livestock assures better chance of adequate hydration and prolonged animal health.

Test livestock water sources that may have become contaminated due to flooding to ensure sources are safe for livestock consumption.

Flooding will most likely affect feed availability for producer’s livestock. Feedstuffs including grain, hay, and silage are negatively impacted by being submerged in flood water.

Wet feeds can be a safety/fire hazard, and moldy feeds due to moisture can harm animals as well. While options may be limited, work with NDSU Extension agents/specialists, or nutritionists on risks and best practices.

Don’t feed moldy or spoiled feed, as molds in feeds can cause abortions, or may be toxic. Contact your veterinarian, nutritionist, Extension agent, or NDSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for post-flood analysis of feed safety and quality.

Diseases caused by spore forming bacteria such as Anthrax may be increased from exposure of overland or river flooding. Consultation with your veterinarian post-flood can assist if animal health concerns arise.

Post-flood management should include a physical evaluation of animals from water-related injuries. Flood waters with current can cause stress and muscle weakness and debris could cause bodily injury.


Be certain that fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and treated seeds are not even remotely accessible to livestock, and are stored where floodwater will not contaminate livestock feed or water.

When possible, be pro-active to store feedstuffs (grain and hay) at higher locations to ensure accessibility when needed. Relocate tractors and equipment to safer locations as they may be required for animal movement.

Turn off electricity at the main switch. Livestock could damage electric fixtures, causing fires or electrocutions. Also, pay attention for downed power lines at your property.

Block off narrow passageways where animals would be unable to turn around. Anxiety and poor facilities can lead to danger with animals crowding in a narrow dead-end or corner.

If animals are housed with machinery, try to segregate equipment with sharp edges or protruding parts such by placing hay/straw bales as an artificial wall.