Skip to main content

You make this possible. Support our independent, nonprofit newsroom today.

Give Now

Washington cows in jeopardy after floods knock out food supply

caption: Skagit River flood waters surround homes east of Mount Vernon on Nov. 16, 2021.
Enlarge Icon
Skagit River flood waters surround homes east of Mount Vernon on Nov. 16, 2021.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Although the worst of last week’s flood waters are slowly starting to recede in northern Washington, about 100,000 cattle remain in jeopardy — unable to find relief from the waters and their food supply threatened.

“It’s just a crisis that has the potential to continue to escalate as we move along,” said Fred Likkel, who heads up an advocacy group for family farmers in Whatcom County.

Likkel notes that many farmers across the border in Canada are also cut off from feed for their animals.

Many cattle have been standing for days in fetid water, as much as 3-feet deep, across rural Skagit and Whatcom counties. It’s a stressful situation for cows, which usually spend half the day lying down. Experts say they can get sick, even after they’re dry.

“They were just standing and they couldn’t get to stalls and lay down,” Likkel said. “They perhaps couldn’t get to being milked.”

If not milked daily, cows start to dry up. If they can’t lay down, cattle get stressed and sick.

Another problem has emerged with the cows’ food supply. Western Washington dairy farmers say they’re just one to two days away from running out of cattle feed. This is largely because a major feed mill in the region was flooded and is struggling to get back online.

A freshly-calved milking cow can eat upwards of 120 pounds of feed per day. New bovine mothers need a lot of calories to produce gallons of milk each day — sort of like an elite athlete.

Trucking routes and even the rail lines have been disrupted in the wake of the floods, which means what fodder is available can't always get to where it's needed. Farmers are working to truck in food for their cattle any way they can. Some shipments are coming from as far away as eastern Washington and Oregon.

Why you can trust KUOW