Wildfires are burning across Western North Carolina and livestock producers are questioning if the associated smoke and fire retardants will impact the health of their livestock. While the fires are impacting only relatively small areas, smoke is widespread throughout the region causing concern among most livestock producers.
Breathing heavy smoke is very detrimental to health of livestock just as it is to your health. When fires are very close and livestock are in the path of the fire they should be moved to a shelter area and many of those have been set up at fairgrounds and other public facilities around the region. If the fires are not very close, then the affect of smoke on them is dependent on how long they are exposed and how thick the smoke is. The smoke will cause them to have irritation in the eyes and the respiratory system, and the best way you can help with that is to make sure they have access to plenty of high quality drinking water. Exposure to smoke can stress the respiratory system to the point that it turns into respiratory disease even several weeks after exposure, so keep a close eye on the livestock for at least several weeks to allow them to recover. Oftentimes, moving cattle or stressing them in any way increases their respiration rate and can cause more problems than it helps, so that should be avoided unless there is a direct danger of them getting caught in fire.
Fire retardants contain water, fertilizer, thickeners and other minor components including surfactants, bactericides, stabilizers and corrosion inhibitors. These fire retardants have been extensively tested to make sure they are safe for humans and the environment including wildlife. The major concern would be poisoning from non-protein nitrogen (the fertilizer component) and it would take a high intake of the material to cause that problem. Producers need to move cattle from areas with significant visible fire retardant, but should not be concerned about pastures with a visibly low level of this material.
If you are concerned with smoke or fire retardants impacting the health of your livestock, if you think fires are getting close to you, or if you need help with other problems being caused by the drought contact your local Cooperative Livestock Extension Agent.