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Disasters and Farm Animals: Are You Ready?

This guide will help you and your livestock get prepared for when disaster strikes

16.11.2021

For farm animal owners, planning ahead is particularly important, as transporting and housing these large animals is more complex than establishing shelters for dogs and cats. In addition, as herd and prey animals, farm animals are more likely to react with fear to new circumstances and attempt to escape from the perceived threat. Finally, there may be biosecurity concerns (e.g. disease transmission) that can affect which places are able to take your animals.

The following guide can help you organise your family's disaster preparedness plan. Your farm animals should be a part of this plan.

Here are things you can do before there is a disaster so you and your farm animals are ready:

  • Make a Plan: Know what to do if you stay at home or if you evacuate, and create your personal list of emergency contacts.
  • Make a disaster kit: Include supplies for staying at home and for evacuations. See the lists provided below in this guide for details on what to include in both a stay at home and evacuation kit.
  • Listen to warnings and instructions from the authorities on evacuating or remaining in place in an actual disaster.

Taking measures to protect your animals ahead of time could help save lives!

What can you prepare? Planning is key!

Your disaster plan includes knowing what specific disasters may effect your area and how you will react to them. This means predetermining how you will get out in case of an evacuation, where you would go, or who you will meet. 

Your disaster preparedness plan should include all members of your family and household. Make sure they all know the plan. You may never know who will be home or the first to be home to safely pack your pets for an evacuation.

Ask yourself these questions to see how prepared you are:

  • Do you know how to get information before, during and in the aftermath of an emergency?
  • What local, national and international agencies should you be checking for up-to-date news?
  • Is there an animal charity in your area that works with any of these agencies on disaster preparedness and response?
  • Do you have a list of official and personal emergency contacts?

Then make sure your contact list is updated and includes:

  • Veterinarians (both your local vet and two livestock vets that are in opposite directions up to 80 km/50 mi away)
  • Friends or family who you could keep your animals with when you evacuate
  • Large animal evacuation centres, farms, fairgrounds, or landowners willing to take in farm animals in an emergency
  • Friends or neighbours who could get to and handle your farm animals if you are not at home
  • Local rescue and emergency authorities, including any experienced large animal technical rescue groups
  • Persons owning a trailer or truck willing to transport your animals in an emergency

If possible, practice evacuating quickly and calmly, including loading your animals onto trailers or trucks preferably in a prepared loading area in or next to where your animals are housed.

Staying at home

It may be safer to remain at home during a disaster – especially if evacuation would lead to a more dangerous situation. Heed the advice of authorities on whether to stay at home or evacuate. If you need to stay in your home, make sure you have stockpiled enough food, water and medications for each of your animals to last at least a week (see Livestock Disaster kit) 

Determine, based on the type of disaster and the layout of your property, whether it will be better for your animals to be on pasture or kept in a barn (or temporarily housed, using sturdy moveable fencing, in another enclosed space). Considerations will include:

  • Whether wind or water is likely to be the biggest danger
  • How far above the flood plain your property is
  • How sturdy the enclosed structure is
  • How close power lines are to the stable or pasture

Further recommendations include:

  • If your farm animals will stay in a barn, keep the animals away from windows to minimise danger from broken glass or flying debris.
  • Provide each animal with two large water sources (know how much each species in each life stage is likely to need) and food for two to three days, more if there is a chance the disaster will be prolonged, in case you cannot get to the barn during the disaster.
  • Make sure your animals cannot escape from the barn, particularly when there is a danger of exposure to toxic gases or chemicals in the air or water or on the ground, as the animals can be a danger to themselves and to humans.
  • Review your plan for responding to barn fires to make sure it is up to date and that fire hazards have been addressed.
  • Try to maintain animals in familiar herds or groups. Most livestock will be calmer if housed or pastured with other animals they already know. Animals that are used to interacting with people may be calmed by human presence.

Information about your animals should be placed in a waterproof, sealed container on the side of the barn or paint critical information on the side of the barn or on another surface easily seen from the road to notify rescue authorities of:

  • The number and types of animals on the property and their location
  • The order of priority for rescue should the authorities not be able to rescue all animals at once
  • Contact details, including ID information such as brands, tattoos, microchip data, to help reunite you and your animals in case you get separated

Place information about your animals in a waterproof, sealed container on the side of the barn or paint critical information on the side of the barn or on another surface easily seen from the road to notify rescue authorities of:

  • The number and types of animals on the property and their location
  • The order of priority for rescue should the authorities not be able to rescue all animals at once
  • Contact details, including ID information such as brands, tattoos, microchip data, to help reunite you and your animals in case you get separated

Livestock Disaster Kit in case of staying at home

Prepare a Livestock Disaster Kit with the following items:

  • A written plan for each type of disaster that is common in your area
  • A paper copy and digital backup with pertinent medical and contact information secured in waterproof container (label all paper versions “COPY”)
  • A halter and lead for each large animal with luggage tag and wing bands for birds, collars for small animals
  • Extra halters and leads (gear can get lost or damaged in a disaster)
  • Blankets (if normally used)
  • Extra feed buckets and hay nets
  • Enough food and water for each animal for at least seven days (more if possible)
  • Any medications your animals are taking
  • Medical supplies such as thermometer, cotton, band-age materials, gauze pads, scissors, mild soap, iodine, hydrogen peroxide, antibiotic ointment for wounds, electrolyte powder, fly spray (ask your vet for further suggestions)
  • Saw/chain saw with fuel, hammer, nails, fencing material for repair of enclosures and fences

Please also include identification tools (have at least two forms of identification for each animal) such as:

  • Photos of both sides of each animal (if possible include a family member in one of the photos)
  • Record of tattoo, brand, or ideally microchip
  • Neck ID bands
  • Luggage tags with your information and that of your animal put on the halter and another one on the neck ID band if possible

Practice the plan you have written down.

What if you are not at home?

Disaster may strike when you are away from your house, and there may not be the possibility to return home for your animals.

To prepare, find out what resources you already have. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • What can you do to prepare your land/barn/housing to minimise damage from the most common types of disaster in your area?
  • If you are told to stay where you are, what do you need to prepare so that you and your animals can stay safely on the property/land?
  • Do you have somewhere to go if you need to evacuate?
  • If so, can your animals stay there with you there?
  • If not, do you have friends or family who could take care of your animals for you?
  • What if you are at work when the disaster strikes?
  • Who can get into your property/land/barn?
  • Who is familiar with your animals?
  • Do you have a plan to reunite with your animals in this case?
  • What if you have to leave your animals behind?
  • How will people know you have animals at your property?
  • If kept outdoors, are your animals free to move to higher ground?

In the best scenario, arrangements would be made with neighbours or friends ahead of time to care for your animals. Be sure that:

  • Your animals have met the person and that person is comfortable with farm animals
  • The person has access to barns, paddocks and pastures and knows where the Livestock Disaster Kit(s) and contact lists are kept
  • The person knows where to evacuate your farm animals to, and who to contact for transport if they cannot do the transport themselves
  • The person has a signed letter from you authorising them to evacuate your animals, freeing them from liability if an animal is injured during evacuation, and authorising your veterinarian to treat your animals in your absence

Preparing the barn

Whether you stay at home or evacuate, it will be important to secure where your animals usually live/are being housed for the type of disaster you are facing. Depending on the situation it may be advisable to:

  • Shut off utilities-power, water, etc.
  • Move feed, bedding and medications, and heavy equipment such as tractors, away from where flood waters or flying debris are most likely to have an impact.

Fire-safe electrical outlets/boxes should be installed in any animals barns! 

Do not house any vehicles with animals!

Evacuation and Livestock Evacuation Kit

If authorities tell you to leave, take your animals if at all possible. If the area is not safe for you, it is not safe for your animals!

  • Even if you are evacuating to a site within walking distance, it will be best to use a vehicle to move your farm animals as conditions around evacuations are often chaotic and the animals are likely to be stressed by the sights and sounds.
  • Animals may behave abnormally due to stress so keep them, and the Livestock Disaster/Evacuation Kit, with you at all times. Stay as calm as possible to soothe them.
  • Make sure you know where you are going – to friends, family, or a rescue centre.
  • Make sure you know where your farm animals are going – to friends, family, a barn or other facility in the safe zone, or remaining on pasture.
  • Make sure someone else knows where you and your animals are going – to friends, family, a barn or other facility in the safe zone, or remaining on pasture.
  • When you leave, place a note on the barn or fence so that rescue services know that you and your animals have left safely.
  • Leave home early if suggested by officials – ideally 24 to 72 hours before expected impact to avoid being stuck in evacuation traffic with a vehicle full of animals. Waiting for mandatory evacuation orders may force you to leave your farm animals behind.
  • When evacuating, constantly monitor the news in case evacuation orders change.

Livestock Emergency Kit in case of evacuation:

If you evacuate with your animals, in addition to the Livestock Disaster Kit, have the following items in your Livestock Evacuation Kit:

  • An ‘Authorisation to Transport’ document if you are not doing the transport yourself
  • Beware of animal transportation rules and regulations in case you need to transport animals into other territories, states or countries. (may need to include recent veterinary documents, health check and quarantine documentation)
  • Proof of ownership for each animal
  • Cleaning supplies, i.e. muckrake/pitchfork/shovel, bucket/wheelbarrow
  • Enough bedding for each animal for at least seven days
  • Human first aid kit

Returning home – what you can do in the aftermath of a disaster

When returning home after an evacuation, be aware that the property might have been damaged by floodwaters, wind, debris, etc.

If your farm animals were not evacuated:

  • First check on the animals to determine their condition. If any are trapped and in need of rescue, seek assistance from experienced livestock rescue personnel to reduce the risk of injury to yourself and the animal.
  • If your animals have potentially been exposed to contaminated water, soil or air, wash them thoroughly with mild soap, then inspect for injuries.
  • Check with your veterinarian about vaccinations, including tetanus boosters and seek advice on any specific risks the disaster might have created for livestock.

If your farm animals were evacuated:

  • Prepare a clean, safe area in the barn, paddocks, or pasture before bringing your farm animals home.
  • Check on the condition feed, bedding and medical supplies, as they may have been damaged during the disaster.
  • Ensure utilities are working and safe drinking water is available in sufficient supply.
  • Inspect all pastures and fencing before turning animals loose and gradually reintroduce them to outdoor areas once you have insured the areas are free of debris and chemical or other waste.

Be aware that smells and sights may be changed by the disaster and this may be disorienting to your farm animals. It might be necessary to walk them on lead first as you reintroduce them to their pastures to reduce their stress.

If some animals have been injured or killed, the herd dynamic may be changed. Watch for signs of problems between the animals.

If any health or behaviour problems persist following a few days at home, have the affected animals checked by your veterinarian.

One kit or two?

It may be easier to create one Livestock Disaster Kit with a separate bag/container to hold evacuation supplies (see above Livestock Evacuation Kit). This container can remain untouched when staying at home. Or you may prefer to develop two separate kits, using the one designated for the situation you are facing. You may want to store your kit in the trailer or truck you will be using for transport

Whichever way you design your kits, be sure to schedule regular times (at least every six months) for checking the kit(s) and rotating perishable supplies such as food, wa-ter and medications.

Other things you can do for animals before a disaster strikes

  • Install fire-safe electrical outlets/boxes in farm animals barns and schedule regular checks for fire hazards. Barn fires are one of the most common emergencies on farms.
  • Speak with your local and national government agency responsible for civil protection/disaster relief about what is in place for farm animals during a disaster.
  • Speak with your fire and rescue agencies about what is in place for livestock during a disaster. Fire agency personnel may be willing to do a site inspection for fire hazards to help you prevent fires.
  • Ask your veterinarian about any concerns you have about caring for livestock during a disaster.
  • Join or start a local Community Emergency Response Team, Disaster Livestock Response Team or Community Livestock Response Team.
  • Help raise awareness to make your community better prepared for caring for animals in disasters.

Disaster guides for other animals:

Horse and owner
Dog in flood water
Helping farm animals in a disaster

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