Natural disasters come in many forms — floods, tornadoes, fires, drought, etc. Each type of disaster may require slightly different preparedness, but if an "all animals — all hazards" philosophy is taken, then cattle ranches can be ready for almost any event. “All animals” includes people. Make sure there are plans for the safety of people, too.
Developing emergency plans well in advance of an event provides one of the best mechanisms for livestock operations to mitigate flood risk. Facility and equipment damage, loss of cattle, and decrease in animal health and production can have serious economic effects on an operation. Producers should consider purchasing insurance policies focused on protecting their financial operations rather than depending solely on potential support from the federal government.
A detailed inventory list and photographs of equipment (including make and model), supplies, haz-ardous chemicals, fertilizer and fuel should be readily available before and after an event. A detailed and current livestock inventory and herd records are also musts.
Cooperation with neighboring cattlemen and other agricultural stakeholders during the planning and recovery phases is essential, especially in wide scale events. Different tasks, such as livestock hauling; feed, fuel and generator acquisition and distribution; and animal evacuation, rescue and treatment, can be assigned to individuals or groups in advance. Primary and contingent holding areas for evacu-ated and/or rescued cattle as well as staging areas and equipment needed for feed and fuel distribu-tion should be identified in advance. A county or parish “feed bank” can be set up on high ground, and groups can purchase and share access to portable pens, chutes and other equipment such as air boats and high-profile vehicles necessary to perform rescues or help shelter in place. Many local jurisdic-tions also allow prioritized entry for livestock producers so they may provide care for their livestock.
Cattle that are sheltered in place or evacuated will be stressed and may be commingled with other cattle, so herd biosecurity may be breeched. Healthy cattle endure this stress with fewer health and production effects. Maintaining cattle in good body condition and keeping vaccination protocols up to date are imperative.
Disaster-ready animal identification and record keeping should be part of normal operations. Copies of records should be stored in a remote location or in cloud-based programs. Access to herd records, proof of ownership and registration papers may be necessary. Store original papers in a portable fire-and-flood-proof box that can be taken during an evacuation.
Should cattle get evacuated and commingled, or escape and are later captured, it’s essential to be able to identify the herd of origin. Many cattle look alike, and plain numbered dangle tags and tat-toos may be duplicated by other producers. Tags can also be cut out by rustlers, who may take ad-vantage of disaster situations. Hot or freeze branding with a registered brand is the most fool-proof way of identifying herd of origin. If cattle aren’t branded, producers should at least identify the farm or ranch on the dangle tag or use official USDA identification that is unique to each indi-vidual animal. Pictures and videos can also help with identification. In emergency situations where there is not time to uniquely identify animals, then the ranch name, location and contact number can be spray painted on animals.
Low-stress cattle handling is also a critical component of disaster planning for beef cattle opera-tions. Cattle behavior can drastically change following a flood or other major weather event, mak-ing them reluctant to be driven or corralled. Herds that are used to low-stress handling tech-niques make rescue and movements before, during or after an event safer and less stressful for both cattle and handlers. Being able to quietly move cattle may be the difference between life and death.
Emergency plans for livestock operations that are at risk for flooding should address evacuation and/or sheltering-in-place. The ranch veterinarian can help with biosecurity concerns and move-ment papers if necessary.
If evacuating cattle is not possible, they should be left in large, open pastures. Topography and flood maps and maps of fences, gates and roads make moving cattle during and after an event safer.
Minimize the presence of equipment, supplies and debris that may become airborne with high winds or encountered in floodwaters.
Providing fresh water, food and shelter will be most critical immediately after an event. Especially during flooding, strategically locating equipment and supplies that cannot be evacuated to high ground will make shelter-in-place a more viable option. Items to consider moving to high ground in-clude the following.
Make sure all family and farm personnel understand the ranch plans and have plans of their own for personal and family safety. Make sure everyone knows where water and electricity cutoffs are locat-ed. It is advisable to also share the emergency plan with nearby ranchers and other veterinarians in case the ranch owner is unavailable during or immediately after an event. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder that cattle ranches need to have plans in place in case employees, including man-agement, become ill.