Disaster Preparedness for Livestock
Natural disasters are a phenomenon that most people likely will face within their lifetimes. The type of natural disaster will vary depending on geographical location and can occur commonly in the form of wildfire, flooding, catastrophic windstorms or blizzards. The very thought of encountering such natural events certainly can be anxiety-inducing, especially when the management of horses and other livestock is considered. As with many things in life, the key to overcoming a challenging situation is through appropriate planning. The following is a checklist designed for horse and livestock owners in disaster planning and management.
- Know which type of disaster occurs where you live. This will dictate your management plan, if there is time to evacuate or if you will need to shelter in place. Contact local or regional law enforcement for insight if you are unsure of specific risks.
- Ensure all animals have up-to-date medical records, vaccinations and infectious disease testing (i.e., Coggins for horses). Construct a waterproof binder that is kept in a central and easily accessible location that contains the following: medical records, individual animal identification, important contacts (veterinarian, neighbors, local law enforcement, area animal shelters/rescues) and proof of ownership. This information also can be stored online, on such platforms as Google Drive and others, and then accessed by smartphone or computer. Both printed and electronic copies are best.
- Identify each individual animal through ear tags, ear tattoos, lip tattoos, brands or, in the face of a disaster, writing identifying information directly on the animal with permanent marker, livestock chalk or non-toxic paint. Horses are more commonly microchipped. It is strongly recommended to have a microchip implanted by your veterinarian, along with maintaining accurate contact information with the microchip company. Photos of individual animals are great when practical numbers are involved.
- Contact local law enforcement for insight regarding evacuation routes. Determine which agencies should be contacted in the event your animals need to be sheltered in place and what information is pertinent to aide rescue efforts (description of property, type of livestock present, number of animals expected). Develop an evacuation plan, and confirm two or more evacuation routes and sites.
- Survey your property to identify and mark the boundaries. Determine an area that would be safe to shelter animals in place if needed. Ask yourself the following questions: Is there sturdy shelter from the elements? If you live in a flood plain, is there high ground for animals to escape rising water? Are there low-lying trees or power lines? Is there potential for flying debris?
- Keep transport vehicles and other trailers maintained. Ensure trucks have full gas tanks. If you do not own a vehicle and trailer for transportation, devise a plan ahead of time with another individual to transport animals if needed. Ensure all animals are trained to safely enter a trailer and tolerate transport.
- Plan ahead for at least three to seven days worth of food and water in the event of a disaster. If animals must be sheltered in place, leave out easily accessible food and water for several days. Leave multiple sources of water in case one is lost to damage or leaks.
- Develop livestock emergency kits. Consider having halters, ropes, blankets, gloves, tools to cut fencing, batteries, flashlights, garbage bags, stethoscope, thermometer, laminated cards with veterinarian contacts and vital parameters per species. There also should be materials to triage wounds that are species-appropriate. For example, some medications used in horses are not appropriate for cattle. Please remember to contact your veterinarian for guidance prior to providing treatment or administering any medications to your animal. Any special medications for individual animals should have a two- to four-week supply and be kept with the original prescription container.
- Know which local animal shelters and agencies have the capacity to house horses and livestock.
- Discuss and plan with neighbors regarding natural disaster management and evacuation of livestock. Stay informed and participate in natural disaster training if offered locally. Remember to have an equally effective plan for humans too. Caregivers need to take care of themselves first or they become ineffective.
As mentioned above, the idea of having to endure a catastrophic natural disaster can be anxiety-inducing, and we know that planning is pivotal for a positive and safe outcome for both people and animals alike. It is important to stay informed. For further information on this topic, please visit the following references used to help construct this checklist:
(video from the U of MN extension service regarding equine first aid kits)
Erin Gatz, DVM, is a graduate of University of Minnesota who lives in Katy, Texas. Dr. Gatz practices at Houston SPCA.