Something I’ve been thinking about the past few days is having an evacuation plan in place that incorporates pets and livestock. Granted, evacuations are not every day kind of occurrences (thank goodness!). For example, prior to Harvey, the U.S. had gone 12 years without a major hurricane making landfall. That’s a great thing for those on the coast, because that’s 12 years they didn’t have to board up their windows and evacuate their homes! On the other hand, though, that’s also 12 years of complacency — many years of not needing to think about evacuating. That kind of streak of “normal” can make people forget to be prepared for the next time a hurricane does make landfall.
Now the coast is looking at once again being hit by a major hurricane as Irma flirts with the Florida peninsula. It’s still too early now to know if and where she will make landfall, but it’s never too early to plan for the worst, just in case. I’m seeing posts online from livestock owners asking for advice on what to do if they have to leave. How will they take their livestock? Where will they go?
And it’s not just hurricanes that can cause evacuations or make you need to leave your home. Things like non-hurricane-induced-flooding, wild fires, or even damaging storm systems and tornadoes may destroy your home. You may have to evacuate, or you may have to leave after the fact because a tornado leveled your house. While chances are good that most of us won’t ever need to suddenly leave our homes (thank goodness), it’s always good to have a general plan just in case. This is especially true for those living in areas prone to hurricanes or wild fires. Think of it this way: Most of us will also never have to use bear spray, but would you hike in bear country without it? (The answer should be no.)
With that in mind, I wanted to post a few simple tips to help you make a plan to get your livestock out safely in case of an emergency. I know that in some situations evacuating all the livestock may not be possible. Human safety must always come first, of course, and if you have 100 head of cattle, there’s likely just no way to get them all out on short notice. For most of us as homesteaders, however, we usually have a small enough number of livestock that we can get most if not all of them out even with relatively short notice as long as we have the tools and plans we need to do so. It’s our responsibility.
1. Have a truck and trailer that can haul most of your livestock.
I know from experience that you can get by for a long time without having your own stock trailer if you either a) only have a few animals (you can fit a surprising number of goats in the back of a minivan) or b) have friends or family who let you borrow their trailer. But when it comes to an emergency, you won’t be able to borrow anyone’s trailer because they’ll be using it for their animals, too.
Upgrading our own trailer is actually on my list of things to do now, because our small two horse trailer is no longer large enough to move all of our larger stock at one time. When your current vehicles and trailers can no longer hold the full capacity of your livestock, upgrade to a larger option. You can find some good prices on stock trailers on craigslist frequently. Ideally, try to find a trailer that has dividers so you can separate larger animals for additional safety (or figure out a way to install your own dividers).
Also it goes without saying that you should be sure your tanks are always full of fuel if you’re expecting a hurricane or are in wildfire conditions, etc.
2. Keep spare crates on hand.
I always keep a few extra wire dog crates (the large ones) around for various reasons. They are affordable, are usually collapsible for easy transport, and they’re wonderful whenever you need to separate an animal temporarily. In addition, they would be useful during an evacuation to keep animals secure and separate. It will be much safer for you as a driver to have dogs or cats secure in crates in the back seat rather than romping freely around the car. The larger crates can also hold small stock like goats, chickens, rabbits, or even young/small pigs. This will also keep them secure where they won’t get loose away from home and get lost. As a side note, you should also be sure to have ID tags on all your animals, whether that be on collars, ear tags, painted on in waterproof paint, etc. That way if they do get lost, you can be contacted if they’re found.
3. Leave early.
I know that there are always false alarms. Weather prediction is not 100% exact or always completely accurate. That can make it tempting to take a “wait and see” attitude when it comes to evacuating. I would personally suggest not doing that, though, and taking a “better safe than sorry” attitude instead.
If it looks like a hurricane or fire is heading your way, don’t wait until the last minute to leave. That will put you in a chaotic rush trying to get your people, your animals, and your most treasured irreplaceable belongings out in the nick of time. Not only that, but you’ll also be competing with all of the other wait-and-seers in your area to try to get out. That leads to dangerous bottleneck traffic that can back up interstates and create massive delays. That is a headache you do not want to deal with. Get out early, maybe even traveling by night, and you will avoid some of that last minute traffic.
4. Take a few cattle panels and t-posts with you.
Nothing makes a faster, easier temporary pen for livestock than cattle panels and t-posts. There are always people willing to lend a helping hand during emergencies, and that includes people willing to let you temporarily house your stock on their property. Having a few cattle panels, some t-posts, a post driver, and heavy duty zip ties tossed in the back of your truck will mean being able to get some of your stock out of the cramped trailer and in a temporary holding pen once you get to your safe place. (You can get cattle panels cut in half for you when you buy them so that they will fit better in your truck.)
Also don’t forget to pack some necessities as well, such as water buckets, hay, feed bags, leashes, collars/halters, water jugs, first aid supplies, and nonperishable foods for humans as well. Also carry any pertinent health documents for your animals like rabies tags or coggins test results and necessary medications for humans and animals.
5. Plan ahead where you will go.
Like I mentioned above, there are always people willing to help out in emergencies. Have a plan ahead of time where you will bring your livestock and pets. Maybe you have friends, family members, or fellow farmers you can connect with on safe ground. Knowing where you can go before you need to leave will ease your mind and take out the guesswork.
If you don’t know anyone personally, there are also sheltering areas that are open to the public. These often include county fair grounds, horse show arenas, vet facilities, and the like. Contact local veterinarians, agricultural colleges, state extension offices, and other similar officials and they will be able to provide details for you.
6. Don’t leave your animals to fend for themselves.
Unless you absolutely have no other option, don’t leave your animals on their own. I can’t stress that enough. If you can by any means, get them out. They will be trapped and helpless otherwise. Locked into one area with no way to get to a safe place on their own, they will die if you leave them. And let’s assume that by some miracle they don’t die; how long will it be before you can get back to them? Getting back to your home may not be easy if you’re dealing with things like downed power lines, trees in the road, flooding, debris, and the like. They may survive the storm only to perish from lack of food and water.
I hope this post has given you some ideas and at least a general starting place for your emergency evacuation plans. Don’t forget it’s always safest to prepare for the worst but hope for the best! Stay safe, y’all.