Florida’s cattle industry hit hard by Hurricane Charley

KISSIMMEE, Fla. --. More than half of Florida’s cattle industry incurred some damage from Hurricane Charley. According to Mike Milicevic, president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, 63 percent of Florida ranches, stocked with about 1.2 million head of beef cattle, were damaged by the Aug. 13 hurricane.

“The storm destroyed fencing and caused farm structural damage on about 9 million acres of cattle ranches in Florida,” says Milicevic. “The state’s largest populations of cattle are located within 14 of the 25 counties designated as federal disaster areas. Charlotte, Desoto, Polk, Hardee, Highlands and Osceola Counties are the areas where cattle ranches suffered the most damage.”

Despite the storms rapid change in direction, which left some people with little time for emergency preparedness, cattle owners did what they could in preparation for the storm.

“Many ranchers tied open the interior gates of their ranches to give their cattle the ability to access more drinking water and to move to dryer, higher ground. A ranch’s routine pasture rotation is often thrown off by periods of heavy rain, but allowing cattle to roam a larger range ensures they have access to adequate grazing,” explains Milicevic.

During storms, cattle are considered safer in pastures, although they do risk injury from debris, than if sheltered in a confined structure that may collapse on them.

“However they do need dry ground to lie on and to graze. Cattle move away from standing water in pastures, primarily to avoid mosquitoes. Unlike other livestock, cattle are not typically kept in structures so flooding is less of a concern. Also, supplemental feed is usually not necessary for cattle on range during summer months as long as they have access to dry grassland for nourishment. Many cattle are lost every year in Florida due to lightning strikes, but there have been few reports of cattle fatalities from Hurricane Charley,” adds Milicevic.

The Florida Cattlemen’s Association is coordinating crews of volunteers to repair damage to fencing, farm structures and to gather stray cattle. The priority of the volunteer effort is to repair perimeter fencing around ranches that border roads to reduce stray cattle and keep the roadways safe. The ground at a few ranches is too wet for the use of heavy equipment, including front-end loaders and track hoes, to move trees and make necessary repairs. In these cases, volunteers are transporting cattle to ranches with dry land.

The state headquarters for the Florida Cattlemen’s Association also incurred some structural damage.

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