By Sara Brown
Heavy rain and wind damage pummeled cattlemen from Florida, Alabama and Georgia this weekend, due to Hurricane Irma. The storm also gave an early start to the fall calving season. Here’s a recovery update from the affected areas:
“Ranchers in Florida are extremely wet, fences are down and producers are trying to operate without power as best they can. Irma came right through the heart of our state’s cattle country,” says Jim Handley, executive vice president, Florida Cattlemen’s Association. “We haven’t heard of catastrophic damages to buildings like the ’04 and ’05 hurricane seasons. But we have an enormous amount of chainsaw and front-end loader work ahead of us.”
“We had a good drying day Tuesday, and look forward to more,” he adds. “We have reports of fall calving cows having babies early and in the midst of the storm. Mosquitos will be an issue for our cattle this week as we dry out.”
Handley says the state association has canceled its FCA Replacement Heifer Sale planned for Friday. Most livestock markets came through without major damage and will resume operations possibly next week. Widespread hay supplies are not an immediate need, he adds, considering Florida’s longer growing season, but forage will likely be short this winter. Most Florida producers normally supplement in the winter, but those needs will be determined later, after water recedes.
By the time Irma reached Will Bentley’s farm in west central Georgia, the storm was producing 65 mph wind gusts. “We’re 200-plus miles inland—it’s not often the eye of a hurricane comes that far,” he says.
There was lots of chain saw work for Bentley on Tuesday. Dozens of trees were down at his farm, as well as a large oak tree that fell onto a barn and office.
As executive vice president of the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association, he said there hadn’t been reports of heavy losses of cattle or injury to producers in his state. “We have a lot of fences down, but most producers will have those repaired in the next few days.”
There was, however, many reports of cows starting fall calving season earlier than expected—some even delivering during the storm.
“We all know—cattle like to have babies in the worst weather,” he says. “They know when you are on vacation and when it’s getting ready to storm.”
In typical cowboy fashion—producers were quicker to give than receive. On Tuesday, Richard Meadows, Alabama Cattlemen’s Association president, and producers from the Dale County, Ala., Cattlemen’s Association served meals to Hurricane Irma evacuees at the Ozark Civic Center in southern Alabama.
Wind damage and down fences were also reported in Alabama. Erin Beasley, Alabama Cattlemen’s Association, says reports from producers in the southern part of the state listed downed trees, fence damage and heavy rain as the main affects from Irma.
“No immediate issues have arose yet in Alabama but we are prepared to help our neighboring states where needed,” Beasley says of producers needing supplies or assistance. “After speaking with some folks in Florida it sounds like many producers are looking for some dry weather in the next few days to start clean up.”
Alabama Department of Agriculture opened six shelters for livestock and horses before the storm arrived. Beasley said most of the animals housed were horses, but those facilities will be clearing out as producers return back home. Gas and cell service were likely to be the biggest factors for those traveling with livestock.