March 21, 2019 | Vol. 12 : No. 3


Prepare for the Worst

Tips offered to prepare for many types of natural disaster.

She didn’t set out to be a disaster expert, but indoctrination by fire several times unintentionally created one. Christine Navarre left clinical veterinary practice to become an Extension veterinarian with Louisiana State University Agricultural Center. However, she started this new gig three days after Hurricane Katrina hit. Three weeks later, Hurricane Rita hit.

For Nebraska ranchers affected by the mid-March blizzard and flooding, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture has posted a list of resources at

For those wanting to provide monetary assistance, the Nebraska Farm Bureau provides information on a relief fund at

Living along the Gulf Coast means there are plenty of weather-related disasters from which to learn, and Navarre has a treasure trove of experience. She offers tips to better prepare for natural disasters, no matter your location.

“Preparedness does work. You can’t be ready for everything, but being prepared will make things better,” she asserts.

When a disaster hits, she says, family must come first. Have a family disaster kit ready that includes a week’s worth of food and water and batteries at minimum, though there are many resources online on what else to include. Once the storm or disaster is over, relationships are critical. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People are willing to help, but may not know you need it.

Cash is king during a disaster recovery. If there is no electricity, that means credit cards won’t work, and you’ll need to purchase feed, fencing and fuel, she advises. She also suggests keeping a landline, because cell service may be spotty or nonexistent.

Prepare for hazards
Be familiar with hazards of certain disasters ahead of time.

“Hurricanes get some warning, but fires and tornadoes don’t, so think ahead,” she says.

Identify your animals, because rustling after disasters is real, she warns. She recommends branding, even if your state doesn’t require it. Take photos of your animals and equipment and store them on the cloud.

Know your insurance needs ahead of time. Have a conversation with your agent about what documentation would be needed for claims.

Write down your plan and share it with family, employees and veterinarians before disaster strikes. Communication during a disaster is key. Navarre notes that in several cases, a shared message asking for help via Facebook saved lives. Facebook also has helped share recovery resources and ways for people to help.

Develop partnerships. Get together with local groups and go over what worked and what didn’t work after a disaster event to better prepare for next time.

Maximize cattle health early because a disaster causes animals so much stress, she says. Remember that there is no silver-bullet treatment to prepare cattle once you hear of inclement weather. You can’t prepare them by giving a vaccine two days before it hits. A comprehensive herd health program best sets animals up for success. This includes proper low-stress handling.

“Cattle that are handled appropriately heal better and can be handled in a disaster,” she explains.

Plan where you’ll go when something happens, and several ways to get there. Be cognizant of biosecurity, if possible. If cattle will stay on the ranch, know where they should be. Think about how you can get feed and water to these animals once evacuated.

Have a checklist ready. So many things are needed when a disaster strikes. There are often resources available if you know what you need, Navarre says. For instance, have a phone list of decision-makers like family and employees, and have a map, supplies list, and plan for where animals and people are going to go.

For the supply list, she recommends planning for feed and water, temporary shade, first aid and euthanasia supplies, tools, fuel, and generators.

Have a plan on how to handle volunteers, and think of jobs ahead of time for non-agricultural help.

Water is always important, but it can be questionable during and after a disaster. Get cattle back on water slowly, and know what to do if cattle drink saltwater or toxic river water. Know your water trough capacity or how to calculate it, Navarre notes. Think about how to disinfect wells, and use generators to pump if necessary.

Develop a plan for how to get water and feed to cattle. Cattle need 1-2 gallons per 100 pounds (lb.) of body weight per day in normal times, she explains. Try to control access if cattle have been without for more than 12 hours. Give half a gallon per 1,000 lb. every hour until hydration returns to normal. She suggests giving access to hay first may help.

To return to feed, she recommends feeding 1%-1.5% of body weight of moderate-quality long-stem forage. Know that intake may be limited initially, but try to avoid diet changes. If it’s possible, try to have donations delivered directly to your operation to save more time and labor.

With donated hay, however, be aware of biosecurity. She shares an example of fire ants in hay, and that just makes matters worse.

Prepare for euthanasia, especially in areas with fire. Know who’s going to do it and how, she says. Know what to do for disposal and who to contact.

Plan for letting cattle rest and recover. Disasters can cause capture myopathy, stress from extreme temperatures, and exhaustion from excessive swimming or seeking shelter in a blizzard.

She says Extension offices have resources to help prepare for likely disasters in your area. Most will have fact sheets or even checklists to help you prepare. She also mentions that she and Dan Thompson, Jones Professor of Production Medicine and Epidemiology at Kansas State University, have edited a veterinary book with a chapter on each disaster called Disaster Response and Beef Cattle Operations, an issue of Veterinary Clinics of North America: Food Animal Practice.

Don’t forget about human mental health. Continuous stress can physically alter the brain. She suggests going through mental health first-aid training as part of your disaster preparation.

Disasters are unpredictable and devastating. Being prepared can help lessen the chaos.

Editor's note: Lead photo by JD Rosman.