Livestock preparedness

cows in pasture

Why livestock owners need to be prepared 

Disaster preparedness is important for all animals, but it is particularly important for livestock because of the animals' various sizes and shelter and transportation needs. Disasters can happen anywhere and take many different forms, from barn fires to hazardous materials spills to propane line explosions, natural disaster or train derailments. Be prepared to protect your livestock, whether evacuating or sheltering in place.

Take precautions

  • Make a disaster plan to protect your property, facilities and animals. Create a list of emergency telephone numbers, including employees, neighbors, veterinarian, state veterinarian, poison control, local animal shelter, Animal Protection and Control, county extension service, local agricultural schools, trailer resources and local volunteers. Include a contact person outside the disaster area. Make sure everyone has a copy of the phone list.
  • Make sure every animal has durable and visible identification.
  • Be sure poultry has access to food and clean water, as well as high areas where they can perch, especially if they are in a flood-prone area.
  • Reinforce your house, barn and outbuildings with hurricane straps and other measures. Perform regular safety checks on all utilities, buildings and facilities on your farm.
  • Use only native and deep-rooted plants and trees in landscaping. Non-native plants are less durable and hardy and may become dislodged by high winds or broken by ice and snow.
  • Remove all barbed wire, and consider rerouting permanent fencing so animals can move to high ground in a flood and low-lying areas in high winds.
  • Install a hand pump. Have enough large containers to water your animals for at least a week. Municipal water supplies and wells are often contaminated during a disaster.
  • Identify alternate water and power sources. A generator with a safely stored supply of fuel may be essential, especially if you have electrical equipment necessary for the well-being of your animals.
  • Secure or remove anything that could become blowing debris; make a habit of securing trailers, propane tanks and other large objects. If you have boats, feed troughs or other large containers, fill them with water before any high wind storm. They won't blow around and you'll have an additional supply of water.
  • If you use heat lamps or other electrical machinery, make sure the wiring is safe and any heat source is clear of flammable debris.
  • Label hazardous materials and place them all in the same safe area. Provide local fire, rescue and emergency management authorities information about where hazardous materials are on your property.
  • Remove old buried trash — a potential source of hazardous materials during flooding that may leech into crops, feed supplies, water sources and pastures.
  • Regularly review and update your disaster plan, supplies and information.

Sheltering in place

If evacuation is not possible, you must decide whether to confine large animals to an available shelter on your farm or leave them out in pastures. In some cases, an owner may believe the animals are safer inside barns, but in many circumstances, confinement takes away the animals' ability to protect themselves. Your decision should be based on the type of disaster and soundness and location of the sheltering building.

Survey your property for the best location to shelter your animals. If your pasture meets the following criteria, your large animals might be better off in the pasture than being evacuated:

  • No exotic (non-native) trees, which uproot easily
  • No overhead power lines or poles
  • No debris or sources of blowing debris
  • No barbed wire fencing; woven wire fencing is best
  • Not less than one acre in size; if the property is less than an acre, livestock may not be able to avoid blowing debris.

If your pasture does not meet these criteria, you should evacuate. Whether you evacuate or shelter in place, make sure you have adequate and safe fencing or pens to separate and group animals appropriately. Work with your state department of agriculture and county extension service. If your animals cannot be evacuated, these agencies may be able to provide on-farm oversight. Contact them well in advance to learn their capabilities and the most effective communication procedure.

Barn fires: the most common disaster

Preventing barn fires and being prepared in the event of a fire can mean the difference between life and death. Know the danger of fires and how to deal with them.

Fire prevention is key

  • Prohibit smoking in or around the barn
  • Avoid parking tractors and vehicles in or near the barn. Engine heat and backfires can spark a flame.
  • Store other machinery and flammable materials outside the barn
  • Inspect electrical systems regularly and immediately correct any problems. Rodents can chew electrical wiring and cause damage that can quickly become a fire hazard.
  • Keep appliances to a minimum. Use only when someone is in the barn.
  • Install a sprinkler system
  • Be sure hay is dry before storing it. Moist hay could spontaneously combust.
  • Store hay outside the barn in a dry, covered area, when possible.

Be prepared for a fire

  • Mount fire extinguishers in all buildings, especially at entrances. Make sure they are current and your family and employees know how to use them.
  • Keep aisles, stall doors and barn doors free of debris and equipment.
  • Have a planned evacuation route for every area of your farm, and familiarize all family members and employees with the plans.
  • Post emergency numbers at each telephone and entrance. Emergency numbers should include those of the veterinarian, emergency response personnel and qualified livestock handlers.
  • Post your barn's street address by the phone to tell the 9-1-1 dispatcher or emergency services.
  • Be sure your address and entrance to your farm are clearly visible from the road.
  • Install smoke alarms and heat detectors in all buildings. New heat sensors can detect rapidly changing temperatures in buildings. Smoke detectors and heat sensors should be hooked up to sirens that will quickly alert you and your neighbors to a possible fire.
  • Host an open house for emergency services personnel to familiarize them with your property's  layout. Give them tips on handling your animals or present a mini-seminar with hands-on training.
  • Familiarize your animals with emergency procedures and common things they would encounter during a disaster.
  • Try to desensitize them to flashlights and flashing lights.

In the event of a barn fire

  • Immediately call 9-1-1 or your local emergency services
  • Do not enter any building if it is already engulfed in flames
  • If it is safe for you to enter the barn, evacuate animals starting with those closest to the doors.
  • Move animals quickly to a fenced area away from the fire and smoke. Never let animals loose in an area where they are able to return to a burning building.

Evacuation planning

  • The leading causes of death of large animals in hurricanes or similar events are collapsed barns, dehydration, electrocution and accidents resulting from fencing failure. Take precautions to protect your animals from these hazards.
  • Evacuate animals as soon as possible. Be ready to leave once an evacuation is ordered. In a slowly evolving disaster, such as a hurricane, leave no later than 72 hours before anticipated landfall, especially if you will be hauling a high profile trailer such as a horse trailer. Remember: Even a fire truck fully loaded with water is considered "out of service" in winds exceeding 40 mph. If there are already high winds, it may not be possible to evacuate safely.
  • Arrange for a place to shelter your animals. Plan ahead and work within your community to establish safe shelters for farm animals. Potential facilities include fairgrounds, other farms, racetracks, humane societies and convention centers. Survey your community and potential host communities along your planned evacuation route.
  • Contact local emergency management authorities well in advance to become familiar with at least two possible evacuation routes.
  • Set up safe transportation. Trucks, trailers and other vehicles suitable for transporting a variety of livestock should be available, along with experienced handlers and drivers.
  • Take all disaster supplies with you or make sure they will be available at your evacuation site. You should have or be able to readily obtain feed, water, veterinary supplies, handling equipment, tools and generators.
  • If your animals are sheltered off your property, make sure they remain in the groupings they are used to. Be sure they are securely contained and sheltered from the elements, whether in cages, fenced-in areas or buildings.

Farm disaster kit

Make a disaster kit so you have supplies on hand. Place the kit in a central location and let everyone know where it is. Check the contents regularly to ensure fresh and complete supplies. Include the following items, then add items you use every day:

  • Current list of all animals, including their location and records of feeding, vaccinations and tests. Make this information available at various locations on the farm.
  • Proof of ownership for all animals.
  • Supplies for temporary identification of your animals, such as plastic neckbands and permanent markers to label with your name, address and telephone number.
  • Basic first aid kit
  • Handling equipment such as halters, cages and tools appropriate for each kind of animal.
  • Water, feed and buckets. Tools and supplies needed for sanitation.
  • Disaster equipment such as a cell phone, flashlights, portable radios and batteries.
  • Other safety and emergency items for your vehicles and trailers.
  • Food, water and disaster supplies for your family.

Your local humane organization, agricultural extension agent or emergency management agency may be able to provide information about your community's disaster response plans.


Information courtesy of the Humane Society of the United States