Wildfires and Livestock

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 Step 1: Know the Risks and Get Prepared

Know the fire risk for your area and determine your plan to deal with the risk level.

Step 2: Make Plans

Option 1: Shelter in Place

In general:

  • Prepare and maintain a fuel-reduced area such as a plowed or heavily grazed field with minimum of stubble:
    • The area should be watered, shaded & located well away from forested areas; and
    • If possible disc or plow outside perimeter;
  • Then be prepared to round up, re-locate your livestock and provide them with feed / water.
Option 2: Evacuation Plan
  • Have a current list of all animals, including their location and records of feeding, vaccinations, and tests. Make this information available at various locations on the farm.
  • Have sufficient supplies for temporary identification of your animals, such as plastic neckbands and permanent markers to label animals with your name, address, and telephone number.
  • Have handling equipment such as halters, cages, blankets, and appropriate tools for each kind of animal. Include bolt-cutters to quickly free animals in an emergency.
  • Contact your local emergency management authority and become familiar with at least two possible evacuation routes. Familiarize all family members and employees with your evacuation plans.
  • Arrange in advance for a place to shelter your animals. Plan ahead and work within your community to establish safe shelters for farm animals, such as fairgrounds, other farms, racetracks, and exhibition centers.
  • Ensure that sufficient feed and medical supplies are available at the destination.
  • Be ready to leave as soon as an evacuation is ordered. Remember, once the emergency hits, roads may be restricted to emergency service vehicles and not open to traffic.
  • Set up safe transportation. You will need to have access to trucks, trailers, and other vehicles suitable for transporting each type of animal, along with experienced handlers and drivers. You may need access to a portable loading ramp to load, or unload, animals.
  • If animals are evacuated to a centralized location such as a fair grounds for shelter and will co-mingle with other animals of unknown health status try to:
      • make sure your animals have sufficient identification (e.g. ear tags or brands) to be able to tell them apart from others.
      • minimize the contact among animals from different premises.
      • protect feed and water from contact with wild animals and birds. Verify the health and vaccination status of animals which must be co-mingled.
      • handle any mortalities in a manner to minimize the possible spread of contagious diseases.
      • monitor the health and well-being of the animals on a daily basis, whether sheltered in place or evacuated. Seek appropriate veterinary medical advice and services on suspicion of an animal disease problem.
      • Accommodation will need to include milking equipment for dairy cows (as applicable). Milk may need to be stored separately from cows of other herds. Milk “pickup” companies should be notified where to pick up the milk.
Option 3: Last Resort – Freeing Your Animals
  • Livestock are very sensitive to wildfire anywhere within their sensory range. Normal reactions vary from nervousness, to panic, to aggressive and resistive escape attempts. Livestock are often injured or killed by fleeing from a wildfire into fences, barriers and other fire risks. Once the flight syndrome kicks in, it is retained long after the smoke, heat and noise stimuli are removed.
  • In the case of a fast moving fire, some landowners spray paint their phone numbers on the sides of livestock before setting them free. Others attach identification tags to animals. If you choose to leave a halter on your animal, consider attaching identification – such as a luggage tag.
  • Finally be aware firefighters may cut fences and open gates, if time and safety concerns allow.
  • FireSmart Farm & Acreage, Spring & Summer 2012
  • Emergency Preparedness for Farm Animals, Public Safety Canada
  • Colorado State University Extension
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Brad Andres.
This document is maintained by Kelly Bernard.
This information published to the web on May 10, 2013.
Last Reviewed/Revised on January 15, 2019.