Livestock disaster plans can offer peace of mind

cowsWhen storms hit, disaster plans help livestock farmers weather the damages. This past February, Wise County cattleman Danny Cantrell lost 13 calves because of 20-plus inches of snow combined with 20-below nighttime temperatures.

“I typically bring cows to the barn to calve when the weather is extremely cold, but my plans didn’t work this time,” Cantrell recalled. “I took my Ranger out to get calves and got stuck in the snow, so I couldn’t bring them to the barn to warm up.”

In his 30 years of farming, he said, “this has never happened before.”

His plan for the future is that, when it’s calving time, he will move all of his herd into or near the barn if the forecast is comparable to this year’s.

“Lots of farmers probably have this kind of information in their heads, but it’s best to have a written plan in place,” said Tony Banks, co-chairman of the Virginia State Animal Response Team and assistant director of commodity marketing for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “It’s a lot easier to do it ahead of time than to try and deal with it when your animals—or you—are in distress.”

No livestock farmer expects to face a natural disaster, but they all should be prepared—just in case. Animal emergency plans are simply checklists that are prepared ahead of time.

In the coming summer months, storms can potentially cause flooding, lightning strikes and other damaging conditions “The reason to have a plan for handling livestock or poultry during an emergency is to minimize potential losses and to get the operation fully functioning as soon as possible,” Banks said.

He said every plan should include emergency contact numbers; a supply of food and water for animals; portable fencing; and a designated burial site approved by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Online resources for creating or updating an emergency plan are available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library,; and Iowa State University’s Center for Food Security & Public Health,


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