Livestock plans crucial when disaster strikes

In the event of emergencies or natural disasters, livestock producers should have a plan to mitigate losses to their family and business.

The plan is crucial and could save producers chaos and confusion, as well as limit potential financial losses, said Rebecca Gimenez, president of Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue Training Inc.

“The first step you have to do is admit there is a problem, that you can be affected by various disasters,” said Gimenez, who recently spoke at the Livestock Care Conference in Olds, Alta.

“Having any plan, period, is better than none.”

Gimenez recommended producers have a personal plan for their families and pets and a separate business plan for cattle and livestock.

She said producers must have a shelter in place for the animals and humans, involving every family member and worker in the planning process.

In many situations, she said, producers might find themselves snarled in highway traffic and lose communication with family members or employees, making it difficult to get hay moved or access to the veterinarian.

“The impact is rarely the real problem; it is the chaos, confusion, and change to routines that occur afterwards,” Gimenez said.

When beginning a plan, she recommended producers ask themselves a few key questions:

  • How would your barn operations and daily management at your facilities be affected if you lost power for one day?
  • How would operations be affected if the region did not regain power for a week?
  • If that happened in winter, what would you do to provide fresh water, power, sufficient forage and care for the animals?

“Welfare decisions require that you think about this ahead of time.”

She said first responders might provide assistance to livestock, but only after they’ve provided safety to humans.

Responses can take days or weeks, she added, suggesting the onus is on owners to take responsibility to evacuate and create a plan.

“Proactive actions can minimize the amount of time and expense to make your operations up and running again,” she said.

“Additionally, good plans prioritize, then preserve more of the facility, equipment, most valuable animals and the owner’s sanity.”

She said prevention is the best way to minimize the effects of a disaster.

Producers should ensure fencing is on high ground and that hay, forages and other combustibles are separate from animal facilities.

Producers should have a “sacrifice” area, which is a space for animals to move to that wouldn’t have combustibles.

They could also provide a 25 metre zone of defensible space around facilities to prevent them from being impacted by wildfires.

“Collaboration among the public and private sector to create mitigation plans and actions can reduce the impacts of natural hazards,” she said, recommending producers invite the local fire department to the farm to develop a strategy.

She said preparation includes creating a facility evacuation plan; putting photos of all equipment and assets into a safe deposit box; arranging appropriate insurance coverage with a broker; and backing up computer records through online cloud services.

“Making an all-hazards disaster plan allows owners to be able to better react to any hazard that may befall them,” she said.

“It means that, in general, one basic solid plan can be applied to many other less common scenarios, helping to focus staff and client reactions to new dangers.”

However, she said producers should still figure out what disasters would be most common in their area and build their all-hazards plan from that.

Many procedures can become part of their daily routines. For example, cattle can be moved by getting them to follow a feed truck.

“This soon builds other benefits,” she said. “Owners often notice improvements through increased efficiency on a workable schedule.”

As well, it’s important to wear proper gear, like a helmet, when dealing with stranded livestock, she said.

“Call 911,” she said. “Don’t walk down to get a cow by yourself, don’t put yourself in a position where you can get injured. Cattlemen get away with it and do it, but it’s all great until it goes wrong.”

Producers can also access various training programs in their area to learn more.

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