Flooding this week in northwest Washington and British Columbia killed livestock, disrupted dairies and blocked the supply of animal feed.
Flooding was worst in B.C.'s Fraser Valley. The water was receding Thursday, but many farm animals remained stranded, B.C. Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham said.
Desperate farmers were using boats to rescue animals, and officials were starting to use helicopters to drop in fresh water and feed, Popham said at an afternoon press conference.
"This is really a painful moment for farmers," she said. "Farmers will do anything to get to their animals, and we're seeing some of that."
Torrential rains and unseasonable warm weather triggered flooding. In Whatcom County, Wash., Doug Visser of Sumas said cows at one of his dairies were cut off for 36 hours.
The cows gathered on high ground, but couldn't be milked. "It's not healthy for them to hold that," he said.
Water got into barns, he said. The structures are intact, but the stalls and bedding had to be replaced.
"We were pretty trapped in here. I've never seen anything like that in my 42 years of life," Visser said.
Visser — and others — commented that while the flood was at its worst on Monday and Tuesday, people were at their best.
"Everyone put aside their differences," he said. "It seemed like nothing else mattered than helping."
Even dairies that weren't flooded suffered the consequences. A grain supply company was reportedly flooded in Sumas. Efforts to contact the company Thursday were unsuccessful.
The flood also has cut off rail service from Canada, choking off the supply of canola, which is fed to cows for protein.
Ferndale-area dairy farmer Rich Appel said he was able to get a truckload of corn from Sunnyside in Eastern Washington.
"I think I was fortunate," he said. "I called early on. I think the waiting list for a second load might be quite long."
Deming dairy farmer Galen Smith said he has a contract to buy Canadian canola for $310 a ton. He's found another source, but at $370 a ton, a price that's not locked in.
"Grain prices are probably going to go up and affect us," he said.
Smith said his fields flood annually, but this one was the worst he's seen. Water didn't get into barns, but roads were swamped, delaying milk trucks.
The on-dairy tanks filled up, and for the first time ever, the dairy had to dump milk, about 4,000 pounds, he said.
The flood also left a mess, Smith said. Rushing water dropped logs and other debris in fields and destroyed fences. "We've got hours and hours of work ahead," he said.
Jeff DeJong said his Lynden-area dairy farm was surrounded by water, but stayed dry, which he credited to good planning by his predecessors.
"The old-timers who settled the valley knew where every six inches made a difference," he said.
DeJong said the flood highlighted the need to remove more sediment from the Nooksack River.
"It will not be the fix-all," he said. "But the river channel needs to be free and flowing."
In Skagit County, farmland on higher ground was most vulnerable to flooding. Dikes protected farms in the lower Skagit River delta. There were anxious hours, however.
"There were some farmers who moved all their equipment out of the flats," said Don McMoran, county director for Washington State University Extension. "The dike system held. I tip my cap to the diking and drainage districts."
Skagit County dairy farmer Jason Vander Kooy said the river seeped under the dikes, but didn't top them.
"It was a long two days of sandbagging and monitoring and building berms," said Vander Kooy, a commissioner for one of the county's many diking districts.
"The tough part was our river gauge got destroyed by a log, so we had to go old-school and put a stick in the water to see how it was rising."
There was no official count Thursday on the number of livestock that drowned on either side of the border.
"We have thousands of animals that have perished," Popham said at a press conference Wednesday. "This is an especially difficult time for our livestock producers."