Fires, smoke causing livestock health concerns in western ranching communities

Satellite image showing the Pacific Northwest smoke and burning areas

This satellite image shows the Pacific Northwest smoke and burning areas on September 5, 2017. SOURCE: NASA

Western wildfires have much of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana under a thick blanket of smoke. And while the smoke is cancelling and rescheduling sports activities, it is also causing concern for the state’s ranchers.

“I’ve had quite a few calls about calves with summer pneumonia,” says Kim Hager, beef nutritionist with CHS Nutrition, Great Falls, Montana. “Air quality has a lot to do with that. Cows are somewhat stressed too. It’s been really hot. They are not making milk, and there is not a lot of grass for them to eat.”

A wet spring promoted thick vegetation growth in many areas. That, coupled with the hot, dry summer, has led to the rash of wildfires covering Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Smoke from those wildfires is spreading across the United States, but in the states where the wildfires rage, smoke isn’t the only problem. In some areas, ash has been falling like snow, covering cars and houses with a fine blanket. Residents are hoping for relief in the form of rain without lightning, or even snow at this point, to dampen the fires and clear out the smoke.

Hager said the dry weather makes any grass left more prone to breakage. When cows walk through a pasture and are grazing, they break off that brittle grass and it blows away. Supplements, like those offered through CHS Nutrition, can only go so far, Hager say. And with about a third of the fires affecting pasture land, ranchers are also being forced to relocate their cattle. The fires are also leading ranchers to wean early this year.

“They are praying for rain,” Hager says. “First, to put out the fires and so new ones don’t start, but also to improve the forage for fall and winter grass.”

As crews continue to battle the blazes in the western United States, the CHS Foundation is assisting the American Red Cross with relief efforts through a $100,000 annual contribution to the Annual Disaster Giving Program (ADGP). Funds in this program are tapped to assist with a variety of disasters, from the hurricanes in the south to wildfires in the west.

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