ABBEVILLE, LA. – Cattle producers along Louisiana’s Gulf Coast are still rounding up their herds, and they are desperate for feed, hay and water for their cattle displaced by Hurricane Rita. The animals have been forced to high ground where little forage remains.

“We’re talking thousands of cattle stranded,” said Dr. Jason Rowntree, LSU AgCenter cattle specialist. “Early reports are that as many as 20,000 are unaccounted for but not dead.”

In Terrebonne Parish, 2,000 head of cattle are stranded on high ground, he said.

The area affected by Hurricane Rita has a cattle population of roughly 170,000 head, according to the LSU AgCenter’s Ag Summary.

Feed is being shipped and distributed in staging areas in Abbeville at the Cecil McCrory Exhibit Building, at the Iberia Parish Research Station near Jeanerette, in Cameron Parish at the Sweet Lake Land and Cattle Co., in Calcasieu Parish at the Miller Livestock Barn in DeQuincy, and in Raceland at the Agricultural Fair Building.

Donations or help with transport may be arranged by calling Rowntree at (225) 578-3345 or Bob Felknor of the Louisiana Cattleman’s Association at (225) 343-3491. The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is accepting donations at 1-866-233-3872.

The situation is critical.

“I'm afraid many of the cattle are going to die if we don't get them something to eat and drink,” said Howard Cormier, LSU AgCenter county agent in Vermilion Parish. “We have a 10-page list of people who need feed.”

Current needs include 200 round bales in Calcasieu Parish, 500 round bales in Cameron Parish, 1,000 round bales in Vermilion Parish and 200 bales for Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes. All parishes need range cubes and fencing.

“We’re doing our best to solicit help from across the nation,” Rowntree said.

With the going rate of $3 a mile, the biggest problem now is getting transport for the supplies, Rowntree said.

“We need fencing bad,” he said. “We’ve got fencing in Alabama, but we can’t get it here.”

A truck from the Knoxville, Tenn., organization Animal SOS arrived in Abbeville late Wednesday morning with 150 bales of hay and 3.5 tons of feed, but it didn't last long. A line of pickups formed quickly at the Cecil McCrory Exhibit Building in Abbeville to haul the feed and hay to herds dispersed throughout Vermilion Parish.

Water is a badly needed commodity because the cattle have been drinking stagnant, salty water. “We need 1,500-gallon tanks of water,” Cormier said.

Dutch Pete of Knoxville, Tenn., drove the Animal SOS truck to Abbeville. The organization started shipping feed for animals after Hurricane Katrina, hauling a total of 250 tons, and now it has expanded to victims of Hurricane Rita, Pete said. Thursday, he said a feed shipment had been arranged from Texas.

“Since the government wasn’t doing anything, we went in there,” he said.

One of those in line to get feed was Joe LeMaire of the community of Theall. He said he can't get water for his cattle because power hasn't been restored to run his pump. LeMaire escaped to the roof of a barn as the water rose around his house Saturday morning.

“I was sitting in my easy chair and the son-in-law called and said ‘Pa, the water is picking up,’” LeMaire said.

LeMaire said he has only 10 head of cattle, but he plans to sell the herd.

“I'm going to call the auction barn to pick them up soon,” he said.

Another cattle owner in the Theall area, Alton Trahan, waited on a herd being brought out of the woods north of La. Highway 82. He chatted with friends driving by, many offering help.

“It’s been a long three days,” Trahan said. “If it weren’t for neighbors, we wouldn’t get any help.”

His 200 head of cattle were being herded by riders on horseback, airboats and flat-bottom boats. Some strays presumably carried by Rita’s tidal surge were from pastures as far as seven miles away.

“There are two offshore boats in the woods,” Trahan said.

Rowntree said LSU AgCenter county agents across the state are doing outstanding work to help cattle owners in a difficult situation.

“Our county agents are rising to the challenge of leadership for producers in livestock relief efforts,” Rowntree said. “You name it, they are stepping up.”