Storm Ophelia: Vets highlight flood risk to livestock welfare

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As Storm Ophelia hits Northern Ireland, the UK’s leading veterinary body is highlighting the impact flooding could have on small holders and farmers.

43% of vets in flood-prone areas reported loss of livestock, lameness or other welfare problems following the UK’s major storm-flooding in winter 2015/16.

A survey of the British Veterinary Association’s (BVA) members immediately after Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank showed that a third of vets living in flood-affected areas reported that their clients had lost livestock due to the flooding, while around a quarter of vets reported cases of flood-related lameness.

Standing in water and deep mud can exacerbate infections and diseases in cattle, sheep, goats and other livestock, such as foot rot. Although most livestock keepers are well aware of the risks flooding poses to their animals, BVA encourages owners to ensure their animals can access an area where they can stand out of the mud or damp.

Mud also creates an ideal habitat for the tiny snails which spread the serious parasite, liver fluke, which can be fatal to sheep. BVA’s survey revealed sheep were the worst hit by flood-related welfare problems.

Field flooding can happen days after heavy rainfall and rapidly rising water levels can cut off access to cattle and sheep or even wash them away. If livestock are kept near a river and fields are prone to flooding, smallholders and farmers should consider moving their livestock to a higher or drier area ahead of time.

John Fishwick, President of the British Veterinary Association said: “The impact of storms and flooding on animal welfare can be devastating. So, we’re encouraging all livestock owners to exercise caution during extreme wet weather and take precautions where they can. This could help minimise loss of animals, both from diseases spread in these conditions and the possibility of being unable to reach animals that are in distress.”