Feed supplies priority as B.C. fires rage

A wildfire burns northeast of Cache Creek, B.C., last month. Among other things, the fires that have raged across the province this summer are threatening livestock feed supplies.  |  REUTERS/Ben Elms photo

Range losses continue to mount as British Columbia fires consume thousands of acres of forest and forage.

The provincial government estimates that 30,000 animals are within the boundaries of the affected regions in the worst fire season since 1958.

The B.C. Cattlemen’s Association has met with the agriculture and forestry ministers to develop plans to find feed and water and initiate government disaster assistance.

The cattlemen’s association is collecting information on losses to ensure requests for post-fire recovery are sufficient to cover damages that ranchers have experienced.

Finding feed is among the priorities. Some were able to get one cut of hay, while others will have to make other arrangements.

The Peace region of northeastern B.C. and northwestern Alberta has a good supply of hay, and some cattle may eventually be moved there, BCCA manager Kevin Boon said Aug. 10.

“We will probably have to move some cattle into areas like the Peace while pulling some of the rangeland on the crown land that hasn’t been in use and put it back into use for the season.”

A provincial program has been initiated to bring in hay for ranchers affected by the fires within the North East Provincial Regional Emergency Operations Centre area. The 2017 emergency hay is provided for up to a 14-day duration for commercial ranchers.

About 350 ranchers in the Cariboo district have been able to re-access their property, and more than 100 ranchers have received varying levels of support from the emergency response centre in Kamloops.

There are many unknowns at this time because it is impossible to assess actual damage to animals, rangeland and fence lines.

There was excess water in the spring, but it is dropping because of high heat, evaporation, extra irrigation and fire fighting requirements.

“Those reserves are going down and we are watching them very closely,” Boon said.

“It might infringe on some of the guys’ irrigation.”

Cattle producers have been pushing government for more storage infrastructure, and in the long-term they hope for more investment in this area. In the meantime, some may have to haul water to livestock.

“A crisis like this exemplifies the need for it and shows we weren’t crying wolf,” Boon said.

Discussions with veterinarians and other specialists may lead to more early weaning. Calves may go into a feedlot for preconditioning to make them more saleable.

“Some of these calves will come in where they have been going for a month without really good constant feed,” he said.

“The cows probably dried up by now and weaned their calves.”

There is also a concern that more cows are not pregnant because fires broke out at the start of the breeding season. Producers must make their own management decisions, but they are encouraged to pregnancy check and may decide to cull the mature animals and retain heifers.

“We will probably end up with a higher percentage of open cows this fall,” Boon said.

“With the tight supply we will have on feed, there really is not an advantage to keeping a cow that you are not going to get a paycheque out of for two years.”

The province is asking the federal government to initiate risk management programs.

“Both governments are trying their best to get as much within the parameters of the AgriRecovery program that they can. The official request will probably go forward next week.”

Tax deferrals will probably be announced. The province has already committed $6 million to replace fencing.

About 100 kilometres of highway fence on public lands have been lost, but no one is sure about losses on rangeland.

The agriculture ministry provided the following information via email on programs to relocate cattle and provide feed and help ranchers re-enter and re-access their property:

  • The Emergency Management B.C. Commercial Livestock Relocation program provides resources to commercial livestock producers to help evacuate and relocate livestock in areas under an evacuation alert or evacuation order. Contact the local emergency operations centre to request Form 514: Cariboo Regional District Emergency Operations Centre at 250-398-5581 or Thompson-Nicola Regional District Emergency Operations Centre at 250-377-7188.
  • Emergency livestock feed is available to commercial livestock producers in the Cariboo Regional District who have lost grazing areas as a result of wildfires. To register, contact the Northeast Area Provincial Regional Emergency Operations Centre at 250-561-3514.
  • BCCA and range staff from the forestry ministry are working with ranchers to locate crown range and private grazing areas for wildfire-affected ranchers who need summer and fall grazing. For more information, contact the BCCA at 250-573-3611 or the local district’s range staff.
  • More than 2,000 tonnes of feed have also been bought in the Prince George/Vanderhoof area for affected ranchers in the Cariboo. This feed is being distributed on a case-by-case basis to qualified commercial producers who have been affected by wildfire.

Emergency hay is available under these conditions:

  • The current forage (pasture or range) has burned and there are no alternative forage sources available.
  • Livestock are relocated on the home place, are consuming winter forage supply and/or are housed on hay fields.
  • Livestock are relocated away from the home place and are being fed an alternative hay supply.

The agriculture ministry estimates that more than 500 ranchers have received support or information through the emergency response, but the number could be higher. This includes help in relocating cattle and connecting people with emergency agencies.

If you have feed or pasture available for livestock, email wildfires@cattlemen.bc.ca.

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