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Wet conditions are prevalent across North Dakota. In some places, quick snow melt and ice jams have caused tributaries and rivers to rise quickly. In others, snow melt has made cattle producers have to move to higher ground. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

Minor flooding, wet conditions from snow melt remain problems

Wet conditions are prevalent around the region, as snow melt soaks the still-frozen ground and ice jams cause quick rises on rivers and streams.

The flooding problems in North Dakota have been mild so far compared to other areas but have caused issues for some communities and some farmers and ranchers. Gov. Doug Burgum on Wednesday, March 27, declared a statewide flood emergency, which allows the adjutant general to activate the North Dakota National Guard and waives load and spring road restrictions for vehicles needed for levee construction and other flood efforts at the discretion of the state Department of Transportation director. Burgum toured McKenzie County, where flooding has forced evacuations. More evacuations were in Fairview, Mont., across the state line.

Across the state, ice jams and snow melt have caused wet conditions.

Two rivers have been running high in Morton County, N.D. County Commissioner Jackie Buckley said ice was flowing on the Cannonball River, so there were few problems there. However, ice jams on the Heart River were causing problems and forcing producers to move cattle to higher ground, she said.

Jason Thomas, a crop consultant and wheat farmer, lives south of Mandan, N.D., near the mouth of the Heart River. When an ice jam broke on the Heart, water couldn't flow into the still-frozen Missouri River, backing up water. He estimated the Heart rose 5 feet in two hours.

Thomas lost some straw bales that he uses to make straw logs for erosion control. The water was higher than it was during the 2011 flood.

And the continued wet conditions have Thomas thinking that it may be three weeks to a month before anyone can get into a field in the area.

"I think the water is going to come down, but it's a mess," he says.

He expects some acres may switch away from wheat and to other, later-planted crops.

While the Cannonball River hasn't been the main problem in Morton County, it has been a concern in Hettinger County. Duaine Marxen, North Dakota State University Extension agent for Hettinger County, says the river level went down 5 feet from March 25 to March 26, alleviating concerns that led to a partial evacuation of Mott on the 25th. Trucking is at a standstill and getting in the field is not expected soon.

"The farmers are sitting on their hands and chomping on the bit," Marxen says.

He hasn't heard of any ranchers affected by the floodwaters but says the wet conditions are a problem.

"They all say it's muddy," Marxen says.

Some ranchers have told him they experienced some abnormally heavy birthweights in calves, and they blamed it on the snowy winter constricting cows' ability to exercise. But that problem seems to be lessening. He hasn't heard much about disease yet, though that's always a concern in wet conditions during calving season.

Flooding has continued to be a concern throughout the region. In Minnesota, authorities recovered the body of Marvin Borkenhagen, 92, after the Amboy, Minn., man drowned in a drainage ditch.

The search for Borkenhagen began after someone reported finding his unoccupied vehicle. Investigators believe Borkenhagen was attempting to clear a field culvert that empties into the ditch. A tool Borkenhagen is known to use was found in water near the culvert.

Calving concerns

NDSU Extension recommends moving cattle or feedstuffs to higher ground if necessary and finding ways to improve drainage.

Extension officials also urge producers to move cows near calving to calving barns or at least to dry ground.

"Cows that are calving in confinement need to be moved when more than 6 to 10 inches of mud exist on pen surfaces," NDSU Extension veterinarian and livestock stewardship specialist Gerald Stokka says. "Adult cows can deal with this, but newborn calves will need space inside a bedded barn, or cows with newborn calves will need to be moved to firmer footing."

Excess mud in calving areas will decrease calves' ability to rise and nurse. This inhibits their colostrum consumption, which increases their risk of disease, especially neonatal calf scours. Colostrum is a form of milk that mammals produce in late pregnancy. It contains energy, protein, fat and vitamins, plus antibodies to protect newborns against disease until their own immune system is totally functional.

"In addition, cows in muddy conditions may have very dirty udders and teats, which contributes to increased pathogen exposure to the calf," says Janna Block, livestock systems specialist at NDSU's Hettinger Research Extension Center.

Stokka says that in extreme weather conditions, producers could provide calf shelters. However, the shelters should be moved often to reduce the risk of pathogen exposure to the calf crop.

In addition, Stokka urges producers to monitor calf health, look for symptoms associated with calf scours and/or bloody diarrhea, along with depression.

"Also, monitor calves that express lethargic behavior, lack of nursing and increased respiration," he says. "If calf scours does develop, separate the calf and dam from the herd to limit its spread."

From what Marxen is hearing, ranchers in his part of southwestern North Dakota are holding up.

"Everybody seems to be coping," he said. "Of course we've done this before."