The real impact of the May 22 tornadoes in Joplin and rural Stone County on area livestock and producers may not be known for several months.
“There is very little research on the subject of tornadoes impacting beef production,” said Eldon Cole, a University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist headquartered in Lawrence County.
However, Cole says there are several concerns that should be addressed. For example, following the tornadoes, some livestock simply wandered away because of downed fences.
“This is an example where branding of cattle and horses—or at least using personalized ear tags—would have been helpful,” said Cole.
There is an increased risk of hoof injuries from metal debris scattered over area pastures and hay fields. However, based on experience gathered in the May 2003 tornadoes, hardware disease did not pose much of a risk. “Insulation is scattered everywhere, too, but the impact of that is uncertain. Hopefully, cattle won’t find insulation very palatable,” said Cole.
Another consideration for producers is the loss of trees in pastures, which means less shade and more heat stress on cattle.
“Portable shades might prove worthwhile,” Cole said. Stocker cattle at the MU Southwest Research Center gained more when given shade during the summer. Breeding females also maintained a higher percentage of pregnancies when given shade, he said.
Trees also make great windbreaks during the winter. According to Cole, some fields may need temporary windbreaks before the long-term process of growing trees begins.
Another farm product affected by the weather was plastic-wrapped hay in big bales.
High wind and hail from storms can leave holes in the plastic, allowing air to enter the hay bale, resulting in mold and forage deterioration. The spoilage can occur rapidly when the plastic is punctured because the forage has a moisture content of 50 to 60 percent.
According to Bob Schultheis, natural resource engineering specialist with MU Extension, if the plastic has only a few holes, those holes should be taped shut as soon as possible using polyethylene tape.
“If the bales will be fed within three weeks, plastic or masking tape could be used instead. If the plastic is shredded, it should be removed and the bale rewrapped or fed as soon as possible,” said Schultheis.
Losing fence after a storm can be a challenge for many livestock producers, but it may also be an opportunity to make some suitable changes.
“If you must replace fences, corrals or barns, ask yourself if you really want them back in the same place,” Cole said. “Just because a gate or fence was in a certain place since grandpa put it there in the 1940s doesn’t mean it’s best to put it back there in 2011.”
For example, a farmer may want to make changes giving them smaller pastures, differently shaped fields, more power fencing or a more convenient big bale barn. MU Extension guide G810, “Missouri Fencing and Boundary Laws,” explains fencing and boundary laws for neighbors to follow. It is available at MU Extension centers and online at http://extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=G810.
For producers who had cattle killed or injured, Cole recommends not rushing out and restocking to the same level. Overstocking is still the No. 1 management mistake of cattle producers in southwest Missouri.
“I would encourage livestock owners to be observant in the coming months,” Cole said. “ Look for abnormal behavior, cows that keep coming in heat, bulls that aren’t getting cows settled, and unusual health problems. If you see something, don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian.”
For tornado-related news, information and other resources from MU Extension, see http://extension.missouri.edu/tornado.