Care of Livestock and Horses in Disasters

Farms and Natural Disasters

Farms in disasters are of concern for many reasons. The safety of the human food supply depends on the health of food-producing animals.

Owners have personal and financial investments in their animals. Farm owners may be injured or killed attempting to rescue their animals in disasters. For many areas and businesses, livestock, poultry, and horses are a vital source of revenue. Additionally, many families keep horses or other livestock for recreation or companionship. Much like household pets, they may be reluctant to evacuate without these animals. Farm owners and horse owners should work with their local emergency management agency and other groups before a disaster to help protect livestock. Remember that the care of and responsibility for animals ultimately lies with their owner or designated care provider.

Fire Safety

Preventing barn fires and being prepared in the event of a fire can mean the difference between life and death for your livestock. Barn fires may be some contain gas heaters.Safety measures to prevent fire damage include the following:uvG7jh

  • Install fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, and smoke detectors.
  • Enforce no smoking policies.
  • Have all electrical wiring of barns and stables installed and inspected by qualified electricians.
  • Consider having the local fire department inspect the property and recommend fire prevention measures. Knowing where a farm is located, how to access facilities, how many animals are there, and where large volumes of water are available can make the difference when firefighters are responding.

Mitigation: Power Supply

Priority for restoration of power following an emergency is usually based on human population density. Because many farms are in rural areas, it could be some time before power is re-established, and generators may be needed. Many livestock operations depend heavily on electrical power to milk cows, provide heat and cool air (fans), and operate feed elevators and machinery. Contact your local utility company so that you can be prepared for times without power. Ensure generators will power wells or install a hand pump on a well. As an alternative, consider keeping enough large water containers on hand to effectively haul water for animals from an alternative source, such as a neighbor with a generator for their well.

Preparedness: Farm and Horse Owner Disaster Kit


The priorities for disaster planning for farms and horse owners vary to some extent with the type of animals and facility. However, you should assemble a disaster kit that includes:

  • Current list of all animals, including their location and feeding records, vaccinations, and tests. Make sure that you have proof of ownership for all animals.
  • Supplies for temporary animal identification, such as plastic neckbands and permanent markers to label your animals.
  • Handling equipment such as halters, cages, and appropriate tools for each kind of animal.
  • Water, feed, and buckets.
  • Tools and supplies needed for sanitation.
  • Safety and emergency items for your vehicles and trailers.

Check the contents regularly to ensure fresh and complete supplies. Additional sources for assistance include FEMA and the USDA.

Preparedness: Communications

Dependable communication is fundamental to identify immediate sources of help and where it will be needed most. A few methods of emergency communication are described below.

  1. Buddy System: Neighbors and friends determine ahead of time who will be responsible for checking on and helping whom, which resources will be shared, and generally improve their knowledge and sensitivity of animal welfare.
  2. Telephone Tree: Every person in an affected area phones two to three other people to see if they need help. These people in turn phone two to three others, and so on. Telephone trees should be tested periodically and revised if necessary.
  3. “Help” or “OK” Signs: Visible from the road, these are a simple, effective method of advising others as to your status.

Preparedness: Evacuation

The leading causes of death of large animals in hurricanes and similar events are collapsed barns, dehydration, electrocution, and accidents resulting from fencing failure. Timely evacuations can help prevent these types of injuries.

Farm evacuations present unique problems and appropriate planning is essential. Coordinate the destination and method of transport with neighbors, friends, livestock associations and horse clubs, and county extension educators.

Regular inspection of trailers and tow vehicles for safe operation (inclLivestock_Photo_721x336x72dpiuding checking tire pressure) is also important.

When evacuating livestock during a fire, close barn doors to prevent animals from running back inside.

Preparedness: Shelters

Every farm owner should have alternative sheltering for their animals. Plan ahead and work within your community to establish safe shelters for farm animals. Potential facilities include fairgrounds, other farms, racetracks, humane societies, convention centers, and any other safe and appropriate facilities you can find. Survey your community and potential host communities along your planned evacuation route.

Preparedness: Identification of Animals

Ideally all animals should be uniquely and permanently identified so the owners can positively identify their animals, and others can trace the owner.

Horses can be permanently identified by microchips, freeze marking, branding, or tattoo. Owners should have current front and side view photographs.

However, if livestock and horses have to be evacuated suddenly, emergency identification methods can be used, including.

  • Painting or etching the hooves.
  • Body marking with crayon.
  • Clipping phone numbers or farm initials in the hair.
  • Neck banding.
  • Identification tags on halters or braided into the horse’s mane.
  • Glue-on numbers.

Guidelines for Large Animals

If you have large animals such as horses, cattle, sheep, goats or pigs on your property, be sure to prepare before a disaster.

  • Ensure all animals have some form of identification.
  • Evacuate animals whenever possible. Map out primary and secondary routes in advance.
  • Make available vehicles and trailers needed for transporting and supporting each type of animal. Also make available experienced handlers and drivers. Note: It is best to allow animals a chance to become accustomed to vehicular travel so they are less frightened and easier to move.
  • Ensure destinations have food, water, veterinary care and handling equipment.

If evacuation is not possible, animal owners must decide whether to move large animals to shelter or turn them outside.

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