Veterinarians should help producers plan for disasters.
Veterinarians should help producers plan for disasters.

You and your clients can’t do enough planning to prepare for a disaster situation, whether that’s fire, floods, tornadoes or other unexpected disasters.

Christine Navarre, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, Louisiana State University, told attendees at the 2012 Western Veterinary Conference last week that veterinarians should help their cow-calf clients put, at the very least, basic emergency plans in place.

Navarre says basic plans include:

  • Mass evacuation of animals if warning of a disaster is given and dealing with rescue, treatment and feeding of animals following a disaster. Veterinarians should coordinate plans with other local agriculture related groups such as county extension services, USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Services and Farm Service Agencies, local cattlemen’s associations, livestock auction markets, feed stores, etc.
  • Different tasks such as livestock hauling; feed, fuel and generator acquisition and distribution; and animal evacuation, rescue and treatment should be assigned to individuals or groups in advance.
  • Primary and contingent holding areas for evacuated and/or rescued cattle as well as staging areas for feed and fuel distribution should be identified in advance. Producers should partner with other farms to provide evacuation space, so other public holding areas can be used for rescued animals.
  • Producers should have safe, efficient penning and loading facilities ready in advance. If flooding or high winds are expected and animals cannot be evacuated, they should be left in large open pastures, and not put in barns.
  • Animal identification is also important. If cattle get evacuated and commingled, or escape and are later captured, it’s essential to be able to identify the herd of origin through brands or tags. Individual animal identification will help owners evaluate which animals may be lost from the herd.

What veterinarians should do
Navarre says that veterinarians should be aware of evacuation plans so health papers can be provided in situations such as hurricanes, where advanced warning is given. In some situations it may not be possible to evacuate or rescue all animals, so producers should prioritize animals so their most valuable stock gets attention first. Copies of herd records and registration papers should be stored in a safe place.

Veterinarians should maintain adequate supplies of emergency pharmaceuticals suitable to treat injured or diseased cattle. In large- scale disasters involving high numbers of cattle, providing food and fresh water is the first priority. Stress-induced respiratory disease outbreaks should be anticipated. Also, damage to chemical storage buildings and fences may allow cattle access to toxic chemicals or plants.

Severely injured animals may require euthanasia. Use of barbiturates should be limited to situations where the carcass can be properly buried or incinerated. “Key personnel should be trained in the use and safety of firearms for euthanasia,” Navarre recommended.

Navarre suggests providing this disaster-preparedness checklist to your beef producer clients:
Disaster readiness checklist for beef producers

  • Herd health and vaccinations up-to-date
  • Animal identification
  • Health papers
  • Prioritize herd
  • Records stored in safe location
  • Evacuation plan
  • Cash available for emergency purchases (credit cards may not work)
  • Stockpile food and water
  • Emergency equipment and first aid supplies stored
  • Partner with other producers/farms
  • Coordinate plans with other local agricultural groups