There’s a good chance hurricanes will hit hard during the 2010 hurricane season, which lasts June through November, according to predictions made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Farmers living in the North Atlantic and around the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico should already have livestock disaster preparedness procedures in place in case a hurricane strikes. If not, now is the time to do so.
Lack of emergency and evacuation plans and lack of livestock identification are two of the most commonly handled problems when it comes to livestock disaster preparedness, says Joe Paschal, a livestock specialist at the Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Making emergency decisions ahead of time will ease the transition when a hurricane reaches land.
“Decide which animals you can take or have shipped out of the danger area and which will remain, how they will be left and who will care for them,” he says.
Some livestock owners will decide to pack horses or show livestock in a trailer to hit the road if the need to evacuate should arise. In this case, livestock should be familiarized with their mode of transportation and should be halter-broken before the hurricane hits, says Kristi Henderson, DVM, assistant director of scientific activities with the American Veterinary Medical Association.
“Expecting livestock to easily load onto a trailer if they have never done so may be delusional, even under the best scenarios in some cases,” she says. “Waiting until disaster conditions to introduce animals to a trailer may result in safety risks to animals as well as the owners, thus worsening an already bad situation.”
Staying Put During Hurricanes
Other livestock owners have no choice but to leave their livestock on the farm to ride out the hurricane. Paschal recommends keeping smaller animals such as poultry, pigs and rabbits in a sturdy barn or garage while putting larger livestock in a large pasture with protection from wind, rising water and debris.
“I realize that it seems heartless to put horses, livestock and exotic animals out into the wind and rain, but if they have a wind block (brush or tree line) and are on high ground free of overhead lines, they will have room to move to avoid most wind-blown debris,” Paschal says.
Disaster Preparation Essentials
Regardless of how you proceed with your livestock, make sure all animals have updated vaccinations, including those needed for the evacuation location, and are properly identified. An external visible form of identification, such as a brand, ear tag or tattoo, is ideal, says Paschal, but microchips or ear and lip tattoos will also help.
“[These] will all aid animal rescuers to reunite your animals with you, and in a worse-case scenario, provide you with closure and perhaps indemnification if they are dead,” he says.
Also assemble a livestock disaster-preparedness kit and place it in a water-tight container in an easy-to-access location. Paschal recommends using a 5-gallon plastic bucket with a top. Inside, keep your name, contact information, numbers and descriptions of your livestock remaining on the farm, medical information and the location of your feed and water supplies.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has a complete list of items to include in your livestock disaster-preparedness kit specific to the types of animals on your farm.
Finally, make sure the entire family knows how to carry out the disaster plan, Henderson cautions. “This is vital to help ensure the most efficient use of time and resources a family spends on the many steps needed to protect their animals and themselves during and after a disaster.”