Emergency events like droughts, fires, floods and other natural disasters are an unfortunate reality that are becoming more frequent as a result of climate change. These events have devastating impacts and affect thousands of farm animals. Owners of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry and other farm animals have a duty of care to always ensure the welfare of their animals, including during an emergency event. This also applies to other domestic animals present on the property. Being prepared for an emergency event and building a resilient farming system can help mitigate the impact of these events on both humans and animals.
Preparing for an emergency
Comprehensive emergency preparedness should include plans for managing animals on farm, building and maintaining feed reserves, ensuring access to adequate water supply, managing and monitoring the surrounding environment, and developing and implementing strategies to build up financial reserves in the event they are required. Owners and persons responsible for managing farm animals should actively seek assistance from relevant government agencies, farming organisations and community groups who can provide support, assistance and detailed advice on emergency preparedness, management and recovery strategies.
Develop an emergency plan
The first step in emergency preparedness is to make sure you have a plan in place for yourself and your farm animals in an emergency event. It may be worth considering working with your neighbours when developing your plan to understand how each of you will respond and may be able to help each other, as well as ensuring plans are compatible.
Things to consider when developing your emergency plan:
- Take note of disasters that have occurred previously in your area and identify other possible emergency events which could occur in the future, such as whether you are located in a high-risk flood or bushfire prone area.
- Identify and set trigger levels for each disaster which will prompt the activation of your emergency plan (i.e., fire danger ratings or flood height predictions).
- Create a list of emergency contacts including property residents and employees, neighbours, local veterinarian, relevant government emergency contacts (e.g. government veterinarians and the state department of agriculture), relevant breed associations (feed distributors, local animal shelter, local agricultural schools, local farm animal transport and agistment services, and local volunteers.
- Have an up-to-date map of your property with details of buildings and facilities, as well as a register including the number and types of animals, their locations on the property and any useful identifying information.
- Provide local emergency services with information about the types and locations of any potentially hazardous material on the property.
- Ensure all animals have durable and easily visible identification. Possible forms of farm animal identification may include neck collars, ear tags (e.g., NLIS tags), leg bands, and/or non-toxic marking paint/markers.
- Locate and prearrange an evacuation site outside of your immediate area for animals to be transported to if required. Possible evacuation sites may include veterinary or agricultural school grounds, racetracks, show grounds, stables and equestrian centres, fairgrounds, pastures, or saleyards. When relocating farm animals, it is also important to ensure you have suitable vehicles, yards and loading facilities available to transport all farm animals. Portable yards can be very useful.
- Property and facility protection and maintenance:
- Reinforce and perform routine checks of all buildings, facilities and utilities.
- Replace barbed wire and damaged fencing with non-barbed wire fencing and consider rerouting fencing so farm animals can easily escape and access safer areas if required. For example, higher ground or purpose-built earth mounds in floods, low-lying sheltered areas in extreme winds, or dams with earth mounds in fires. For poultry, this could include providing birds high areas to easily perch in floods or secure fireproof shelters in extreme winds and fires.
- Remove any potential contaminants (e.g., chemicals, fuels, fertilisers) and ensure all hazardous material is clearly labelled and if possible, placed in the same secure location.
- Ensure any electrical machinery and wiring is safe and appropriately insulated.
- Remove and ensure any possibly flammable material is clear from heat sources.
- Secure or remove any loose objects (e.g., trailers, boats, feed troughs, or tanks) that could become debris in extreme weather.
- Consider removing trees and vegetation which are close to buildings or may fall across vital infrastructure, including roads and powerlines, during extreme weather.
- Have backup or alternative water, power sources and fuel supplies (e.g., manual water pump and backup power generator) on the property.
- Have emergency supplies such as fire extinguishers, fire blankets, and sandbags in at risk buildings and facilities on the property.
Practising your emergency plan is a critical part of emergency preparedness to help you refine your plan and decrease panic in a real emergency event. Emergency plans should be reviewed and practised regularly (at least annually) and updated as required.
Assemble emergency provisions
Once you have your emergency plan in place, the next step is to assemble your emergency provisions. Your emergency provisions should include everything you may need when activating your emergency plan and ensuring your farm animals can be cared for during and after an emergency event. You should also take into consideration the number of animals you have under your care because your emergency provision needs may differ considerably for large groups/herds of animals in comparison to smaller groups.
Things to include in your emergency provisions:
- Contact details of all emergency contacts
- Map of your property and where animals are located
- Information on the number of farm animals and identifying features and locations, including proof of ownership and copies of any veterinary/treatment records
- Feed and water stores for 7-10 days
- Vitamin and electrolyte packs
- Feed and water troughs/buckets
- Any regular medications
- Bedding material/hay
- Portable panels/fences and race
- Buckets and storage containers/tanks
- Ropes, halters and leads
- Flashlight and radio (solar, hand or battery operated)
- Basic farm animal first aid supplies including bandages and wraps, fly and antiseptic spray, needles and syringes, wire cutters, knives (sharp and all-purpose), and heavy-duty gloves and disposal gloves
- Blankets, towels and tarps
- Waste and cleaning supplies
- Firearm or captive bolt to humanely euthanase farm animals if required.
During an emergency
Activating your emergency plan
It is important to remember during an emergency event, that just like you, your farm animals will be stressed and can easily become frightened and disoriented. This means extra care needs to be taken when handling farm animals and best practice low-stress handling methods should always be used.
In an emergency event, putting your emergency plan into action earlier rather than later will help avoid panic and give you time to deal with unforeseen events. This means staying aware and informed of upcoming weather forecasts particularly during high-risk seasons.
Ideally, if there is prewarning of an emergency event like a natural disaster, then farm animals should be either evacuated to an area outside the expected disaster zone or moved to a safe secure location on the property. The decision to leave farm animals in their current location during an emergency event should be based on the risk to animal welfare and the immediate environment and the ability to safely move animals during the emergency event.
Evacuating with your farm animals
In developing your emergency plan, you should have already determined and organised how to transport all your animals to an alternative location if required. When considering how to best transport your farm animals you will need to make sure you have prearranged suitable yards, loading facilities and vehicles. If a large number of farm animals require transporting, it is worth developing a network of neighbours, other farmers, and local farm animal transport providers who can assist during an emergency event.
When evacuating and transporting farm animals, it is important to remember you should never risk the safety of yourself, others, and animals. This means you should avoid transporting farm animals during an active emergency and avoid high-risk situations such as flood waters and active fire zones.
Evacuating without your farm animals
If farm animals are remaining on the property, ensure they have shelter or a sheltered area that provides adequate room for each animal and protects them from extreme weather as much as possible. For poultry, this shelter should be sturdy and secure and able to provide shade and protect birds from thermal stress and extreme weather including sustained high winds or heavy rain.
Before leaving your property, make sure any fences and paddocks are routed for animals to escape and access safer areas if required. Make sure any animals, such as horses or goats, remaining on the property are not tied to fences and other structures and remove any halters and ropes which could get easily caught on trees or equipment and risk animals being injured. Also make sure all power is turned off to avoid any electrical or fire hazards during an emergency event, which could put animals at risk.
After the emergency event
The aftermath of an emergency event, like a natural disaster, can often be devastating and overwhelming. The first priority following an emergency event should be ensuring the safety of the people and animals affected. Strategies should then be put in place to manage the welfare of farm animals throughout the recovery process following an emergency event.
Some steps to take following an emergency event:
- Make an inventory of farm animals as soon as it is safe to do. Any trapped or injured farm animals should be attended to and treated as soon as possible, and any missing farm animals should be noted and searched for in surrounding areas.
- Farm animals should be safely contained, which may require relocation or temporary fencing and shelter. Palatable food and water should be provided to animals as soon as possible.
- The property should be surveyed to assess the condition of paddocks, buildings, facilities and utilities. Any major hazards noted should be identified and dealt with appropriately.
- Farm animals should continue to be monitored closely to identify any injuries or symptoms of potential disease (e.g., footrot, mastitis, internal and external parasites, or bacterial diseases) for several days to weeks after the emergency event.
- The carcasses of dead animals should be removed and disposed of appropriately as soon as possible. Carcass disposal options may include on-farm burial, rendering or landfills, composting or cremation services depending on the scenario. Your relevant department of agriculture, local land services and local council will be able to provide you with further information on carcass disposal options and requirements.
- Evacuated farm animals or farm animals on the property should only be returned to their original paddocks and housing once all hazards have been removed, possibly contaminated surfaces have been disinfected, any buildings, shelters and fences have been repaired if the damage poses a risk to farm animals, and there is adequate feed and water.
Long term resilience
With climate change and the continuing pressure on our natural resources we have seen extreme events increase in frequency and severity over recent years. There is a critical need for strategies to be put in place to mitigate climate change and the impact and risk it poses to animal welfare. Successful emergency and disaster resilience requires a collaborative approach from various stakeholders including government, researchers, industry, and the community as a whole.
Part of emergency and disaster resilience also includes developing ways to disaster proof your property and having a contingency plan in place to ensure the welfare of animals during a disaster as well as throughout the recovery period is managed. This involves investigating and investing in ways to disaster proof your property and farming system. For example, managing the risk to feed and water availability during drought by ensuring you can maintain a reliable supply of appropriate feed and water or alternatively plan to reduce stock numbers at critical times.
While being prepared for all types of emergency events is critical, doing what you can to prevent them from affecting your property in the first place is also important. In the case of natural disasters, effective and responsible land use and management is one of the most important ways to ensure disaster resilience. This involves considering surrounding natural hazards and the location of your property particularly when located on marginal lands or areas which are known to be high risk for disasters such as floods, cyclones or bushfires. Land and resource management practices should focus on supporting the preservation, maintenance and improvement of natural resources. It should be recognised that some land and areas are unsuitable for certain farming activities or developments. Disasters not only affect people and animals, but also degrade our natural resources and have a significant economic cost. While developments in technology and land management practices have contributed to improved use of our natural resources, more still needs to be done. Focusing on land management practices that restore and protect our natural resources while supporting biodiversity is critical for future disaster resilience, agricultural sustainability and protecting the welfare of those animals we farm.
Being aware of your situation allows you to make informed decisions about your safety and the safety of your farm animals.
The following links will take you to your State or Territory government emergency contacts:
Australian Capital Territory
New South Wales
- NSW Government – Department of Primary Industries – Before an emergency
- NT Government – SecureNT – Animals in Emergencies – Livestock
- QLD Government – Business Queensland – Animal welfare in natural disasters
- SA Government – PIRSA – Animal safety in emergencies
- VIC Government – Agriculture Victoria – Horses and livestock in emergencies
- TAS Government – Biosecurity Tasmania – Animals and Bushfire
- WA Government – DPIRD – Animal welfare in emergencies