If disaster strikes without warning you will need to shelter in place. In other cases you may decide that sheltering in place is the best option. Deciding to stay put and ride out a disaster requires the ability to meet the needs of all humans and animals on your farm. At a minimum you must be prepared to cover the basics of water, food, shelter, power/fuel, medical/veterinary, and communication. In a major disaster much of the public infrastructure may be compromised. Electricity is likely to be intermittent at best, or completely unavailable. Roads may be impassible. Telephones and other communication may be unavailable. Medical services may be overstretched or unreachable.
If evacuation is not possible, a decision must be made whether to confine animals to an available shelter on your farm or leave them out in pastures. You may believe that your animals are safer inside barns, but in many circumstances, confinement takes away the animals’ ability to protect themselves. This decision should be based on the type of livestock, the type of disaster, and the soundness and location of the sheltering buildings.
In the case of a hurricane, the strength and longevity of the wind warrants that your animals be evacuated or sheltered in a hurricane sound and secure building.
Survey your property for the best location for animal sheltering. If your pasture area meets the following criteria, your animals may survive the disaster out in the pasture:
No exotic (nonnative) 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 less than an acre, your animals may not be able to avoid blowing debris)
If your pasture area does not meet these criteria, you should evacuate. Whether you evacuate or shelter in place, make sure that you can provide 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.
The leading causes of death of livestock in hurricanes and similar events are collapsed barns (non hurricane-proof shelters), dehydration, electrocution, and accidents resulting from fencing failure. Turn off electrical power to machines, barns, and other structures that might be damaged or flooded. If you have feed troughs or large containers, fill them with water before any high-wind event. Secure loose items, such as lumber, logs, pipes, machinery parts, and tools.
During a disaster, your personal safety and that of those around you should always be your first concern. Remember to communicate and cooperate with all emergency personnel. If you must leave the premises let someone know where you are going and try to remain in contact with that person.
If you must leave animals behind post a highly visible sign (either on a window, door, or gate) letting rescue workers know the breed and number of animals that remain. Leave plenty of food and water in an adequate container that cannot be tipped over. Place extra food close to the animals so rescue workers may feed them daily.