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Protecting livestock in hurricanes 

July 2021: Continuing her blog series, Lyzi Cota outlines the dangers for livestock during hurricane season, as well as the potential subsequent floods, and she provides steps for safeguarding animals.

main picA Paso Fino horse on a beach the morning after Hurricane Maria, 2017. Photo: Karl Alexander/Adobe Stock

Robert Smith, Former Director of Public Safety at Manatee County Government in Florida, US, and current corporate crisis manager, says that it is essential to protect livestock during hurricanes, since the loss of livestock can affect not just the owner’s livelihood, but the economic stability of an entire community. He recommends establishing a relationship with local first responders ahead of time. Ensure they are familiar with your livestock and properties, including how to access enclosures, identify your livestock and contact information for you in the event of emergencies. 

On the importance of having animals identified in case of evacuation, Smith points out: "Evacuations can last days or even weeks. Depending on the level of damage and potential risk, owners may not be allowed back into an area following an evacuation for some time. Livestock that has escaped enclosures can travel substantial distances during this time and mix with other animals in neighbouring areas.”

It is worth considering the many hazards and risks that might arise well before the hurricane season begins – action plans with routes for livestock trucks and securing moveable, outdoor objects, as well as ensuring that enough drinking water is stored (for people and livestock) are a good start. Since service and fuel stations might be out of action, ensure that vehicles are fuelled and if necessary, install a power generator if animals (such as hatchlings) need a constant source of heat. Poultry are susceptible to stress during hurricanes, so adding electrolytes and vitamins to water for a day or so can help with dehydration and reduce stress, and moving coops inside can keep birds calm and avoid physical damage to structures.

Preparation: Veterinary care and shelters
In hurricanes and floods, traumatic injuries will predominate, but livestock owners can prepare for these and other types of disaster-related injuries by talking with vets about the contents and appropriate use of first aid kits.
To safeguard animal health in shelter areas that may combine other animals, procedures such as vaccines, deworming, and Coggins tests for horses should all be up to date. To ensure appropriate and adequate amounts of animal feed, develop lists of feed and hay suppliers in the area and avoid dietary changes to avoid colic, laminitis and metabolic diseases.

Preparation: Evacuation before a hurricane
Ensure that identification records are comprehensive and up to date and prepare an evacuation kit.

The timely evacuation of large animals before a hurricane makes landfall can help prevent injuries and leading causes of death such electrocution, dehydration, collapsed barns and accidents resulting from fencing failure. Livestock owners should evacuate animals to a safe area or move them to high ground with wind and rain protection; ideally wooded or brushy areas where livestock has access to natural shelter, feed (or hay) and room to move to avoid flying objects. Flooding hazards of confined spaces where escape is not possible for animals such as pigs must be evaluated; they may need to be moved to another location to prevent risks. In addition, electrocution hazards such as downed power lines must be given a wide berth, and if possible, indoor locations considered for evacuation that will provide protection from debris.

Response during a hurricane
Do not attempt to evacuate during a hurricane; follow authorities' directions if you are advised to evacuate before the event strikes. Monitor your national weather service advisories. During a hurricane, stay indoors in windowless rooms or hallways and keep small animals in carriers or confined areas. Even if the wind calms, do not assume the hurricane has passed while the eye is over the surrounding area. Once winds resume, they can grow to hurricane force quite fast and come from the opposite direction. Severe flooding may follow hurricanes as they move inland; therefore, it is recommended to keep animals away from riverbanks and streams. 

It is necessary to exercise caution and restrict all access to dangerous areas. When required, move livestock to higher ground, but deny access to barns, flood-prone pastures, and other structures. Many livestock drown because they refuse to leave flooded shelters, so they must not be allowed to re-enter potentially dangerous zones.

Recovery after a hurricane
There are several things that can be done when it is safe to do so and the hurricane has passed, but be highly cautious when re-entering hurricane-affected areas. Long-term hazards after a hurricane include contaminated food and water, interrupted water, gas, and electric power services, fallen power lines, electrical short circuits, fires and explosions from gas leaks. Confirm the conditions of animals as soon as it is safe and be prepared to take water, basic livestock first-aid supplies feed, hay, wire cutters and useful tools.

Environment: After the hurricane, prevent livestock seeking higher ground since they may wander onto roadways, creating additional hazards for themselves and motorists; and verify perimeter fences along roadways for missing water gaps and downed trees. Move the animals out of any flooded areas to covered or dried locations as soon as possible. Inspect areas where animals are kept for broken sewers or water mains, loose wires and gas leaks and report any that are found to the appropriate service. Air should be allowed to circulate to help ventilation and the drying out process, so open windows and doors and pump water out flooded areas, draining one-third of the floodwater each day in order to reduce the risk of structural damage. Temporary fence repairs may be necessary, as well as ensuring that damaged structures are elevated above flood level or relocated. 

Medical care: Check for injuries and apply first-aid as required until the veterinarian arrives, but take into account that that they may have damage to their properties or their own livestock, or they may have more critical cases to handle first; be precise in describing the injuries to the vet, providing as much detail as possible, including pulse rate, breathing and temperature of the animal; offer to render any aid suggested; and remember to describe exactly where the animals are located, mentioning any bridges or road closures along the way.
Food and water: Give stressed animals clean water, feed or hay; provide little feed for the first few days to animals that have not had access to feed for one or more days and then gradually increase it over a week to full feed; ensure access to clean hay, this can be wet hay as a last resort, but do not give mouldy feed to any animal; dispose of water-soaked, perishable and contaminated foods; and during a ‘boil-water’ order in effect, do not drink or give animals tap water unless official notices advise that the water supply is safe to drink. For further information on feeding rescued livestock in hurricane-affected areas, visit Texas A & M AgriLife Extension.  

Sickness: If the animals have been in water and cold, they will most likely develop pneumonia – listen for hard breathing, coughing, crusty eyes, look for runny noses and lowered heads – professional treatment for those animals will be essential as soon as possible. It is essential to remove mud from barns to prevent livestock and horses from developing foot problems if they stand in the mud for long periods; and keep livestock away from pasture after a hurricane where storm surge has flooded, as pasture land with salt water may cause illness or death – it is vital to transport fresh water to livestock in such areas. After hurricanes, ticks will move to higher ground and onto more livestock; therefore, you need to protect them with products recommended by your veterinarian. 
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) presents a compilation of tick-borne livestock diseases. It offers the following information:

  • Babesiosis (tick fever) is a febrile disease of domestic and wild animals characterised by extensive erythrocytic lysis leading to icterus, anaemia, and haemoglobinuria, which can be fatal;
  • Bovine anaplasmosis (Anaplasma marginale) is an infectious, noncontagious haemotropic disease of cattle that may be biologically transmitted by 20 or more species of ticks. Symptoms vary from depression, lack of appetite, laboured breathing dehydration, anaemia, weakness, constipation, acute form by fever and yellowing of the mucous membranes. After an acute attack, animals recover slowly, resulting in losses in milk or meat production. The mortality rate is generally between five and 40 per cent, but it may reach 70 per cent during a severe outbreak. The causative agent may also be mechanically transmitted by biting fly species, particularly horse flies of the Tabanidae family.
  • East Coast fever spreads through trans-stadial transmission by at least nine tick species, mainly Rhipicephalus appendiculatus, the brown ear tick. This disease is enzootic in east Africa and has been reported from Zaire, Rhodesia, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Malawi and Sudan. It probably exists in Ethiopia, Zambia and southern Somalia. South Africa and Mozambique have reportedly eradicated the disease through tick control.
  • Heartwater or cowdriosis. Rickettsia ruminantium (causative agent is a rickettsia) or Ehrlichia ruminantium (previously Cowdria ruminantium) is transmitted by ticks of the genus Amblyomma. It is a septicaemic, infectious disease of goats, sheep, cattle and other ruminants. The areas of the disease distribution have been reported in Sudan southern, eastern and western African countries and Madagascar. According to AU-IBAR (2011), cowdriosis is present in Africa south of the Sahara, Comoros, Zanzibar, Madagascar, Sao Tomé, Réunion and Mauritius.
  • Internal parasites may eventually become an issue, especially if livestock from several locations intermingle and pastures are flooded. Consult with your veterinarian regarding treatment.
  • Water quality will also be an issue, especially for livestock in populated areas that drink from bayous, streams, and tanks that fill with rain run-off. Such water could be contaminated with salt water from storm surges, dead animals, petroleum products, and contaminated material from flooded septic tanks and sewer systems. If possible, use cleaner water sources to water livestock until they can be evaluated.

Commenting on the importance of preparedness and planning for livestock in disasters, Crisis & Emergency Manager at the US Foreign Service Institute of State Department and CRJ Advisory Panel member, Colonel (ret) Robert Fagan, points out: “Emergency management officials, animal owners, and the animal care industry must work together in preparing community disaster plans that address the needs of animals, their owners, and the animal care industries. Planning teams should identify community-specific animal concerns and develop a co-ordinated response. 

"Disaster animal planning makes good sense from an emotional and business standpoint for animal owners, animal industries, emergency management, and the public because of the societal impacts of animal ownership, including the concept of the human-animal bond as a major factor affecting animal owners and care providers in a disaster. Every year hundreds of cases are recorded around the world of animal owners not evacuating before a major disaster because they have not taken their pets or livestock into consideration for disaster planning.”

The methods and time we employ to prevent and plan to protect our animals and respond to natural disasters are precious. It will prevent additional anxiety and stress that will affect their immune system and lead to further illnesses. The fact that they are animals does not mean that they do not feel pain, experience fears, stress, anxiety, sadness and get depressed. They can also develop love and loyalty to their owners – they are sentient beings.
Resources and further reading:
FAO (2000): Tick-borne livestock diseases and their vectors, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
CAB International: Invasive Species Compendium (nd)
Commonwealth of Australia 2005 (2005): What to do Before, During & After a Flood (Fourth Edition Full Revision), Emergency Management Australia 
Texas A & M Agrilife Extension  
Texas A & M Agrilife Extension (nd): Care and Treatment of Livestock After a Hurricane or Flood
Federal Emergency Management Agency (2021): Livestock In Disasters, FEMA Emergency Management Institute 

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