Are You & Your Farm Prepared For A Health Emergency?

Planning ahead for a potential emergency is the best medicine for your farm or homestead. Here's where to start when getting ready for the unexpected.

by Susan Brackney
PHOTO: Scott Webb/Pexels

If I had it to do over again, I would’ve had a farm emergency plan in place long before I needed it. (Fortunately, I’m ready for most anything now—and you can be, too.) See, I recently found myself faced with emergency surgery and a relatively lengthy hospital stay. Once I was finally home, I would also have a pretty lengthy recovery period ahead of me.

In my absence, who was going to water the sweet potatoes and gourds I’d been tending all season? Who would let the hens out in the morning and put them back in again at night? (And who would make sure my favorite old hen—who happens to be blind—gets plenty to eat and drink every day?)

Where would my dog stay? What about collecting my mail and mowing the yard?

So what if you—or other essential members of your farm or homestead—were hit with a similar health crisis? Your to-do list might look something like mine. But let’s say you have multiple kinds of livestock and many more crops. Or even a full-fledged commercial operation with employees and regular customers.

How well would your day-to-day operations fare without you?

Read more: ‘What if one of us gets hurt?’ Plan ahead for the unexpected.

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Getting Started

To make a workable emergency plan, start by listing all of the farm chores you regularly attend to. What do you do each day? What do you do every few days? What do you do weekly? Monthly? Of these, which are essential and which, if any, could you stop for the time being?

(In my case, for instance, I decided to let my compost piles go temporarily unattended.)

Next, consider each of the essential chores you’ve identified, one at a time. List any equipment or supplies you use to complete individual chores, and explain exactly where you store these items.

Finally, write out the specific steps necessary to complete each chore—including any important warnings. (One of mine? The latch on the chicken run is tricky—don’t accidentally get locked inside!)

If you run a commercial farm, you might want to make digital and hard copies of all of this information available. That way, your employees and managers can easily access it—and act on it—if necessary. (You might also make sure your customer contact list is easy for certain employees to find.)

farm chores emergency
Susan Brackney

Who Can Help?

After you’ve identified your essential chores, you’ll know how much assistance you’ll need. For your next step, create a separate list of potential helpers.

Consider friends, neighbors, family members, current employees, or even temporary hires. And do you belong to a local church or synagogue? What about a sewing group or book club? Extra help also may come from wider social circles like these.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of people who volunteered to help me while I was away. Luckily, I had just enough time to meet with them in advance and show them how I handled each task.

Ideally, though, I also would’ve given them more formal instructions, so they could refresh their memories as needed.

Time permitting, you can email notes about specific chores to each of your helpers. You could also print and post hard copies of your instructions in relevant spots around the farm. (This definitely would’ve helped in my case—just before being readied for surgery, I received a frantic text: CAN’T FIND CHICKEN FOOD DISPENSER?!)

Read more: Can chickenkeepers take a vacation? Yes, with a little bit of planning ahead.

Making Connections

The people who volunteered to help me during my surgery and hospital stay didn’t necessarily know one another. As such, I also provided a master contact list to everyone. It included all of the volunteers’ names, what they were helping me with, their phone numbers and, if available, their email addresses.

Beyond just being nice to have, such a list comes in handy for troubleshooting. For example? Say the person mowing my yard had noticed a problem with my hens. Using the contact list, he’d be able to alert my hen caretaker accordingly.

Your master contact list could also include emergency numbers. Have a specialty livestock veterinarian? Adding his or her name, address, phone number and hours of operation could make all the difference.

And in the event that one of your farm helpers has an emergency of their own? You might also include the names and numbers of some additional, potential volunteers—just in case your helpers need a little extra help themselves.

Of course, here’s hoping you’ll never actually need to use emergency plans like these on your farm. But if you do? You’ll likely be grateful to have made them in advance.

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