Are You Prepared?

If you’re a pet owner, livestock farmer, or facility manager where there are animals, are you prepared for an emergency scenario?  While preparing for a fire, flood, tornado or animal trauma may not be as popular and sexy as preparing for the zombie apocalypse these days, it is vitally important.  After all, those who fail to plan are planning to fail.

Just recently I attended a course on Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue (TLAER). The background of the attendees was diverse: industry representatives, NGO’s, veterinarians, vet techs, producers, fire fighters and technical rescue members.  I was there both as a member of a technical rescue task force, and as a producer with an inherent and lifelong understanding of large animals.

Have you ever had a large animal (or any animal for that matter) in a situation that they cannot get themselves out of? Maybe they fell through the ice; got stuck in the mud; were stranded by rising flood waters; were trapped by a growing wildfire; found themselves in a barn on fire; fell off a cliff; fell into a well/ditch/hole in the ground (happens more than you’d think); got stuck down a steep ravine; got tangled up in something; had a loading/unloading/hauling incident; or found themselves in a trailer that was sideways or upside down (Note: trailers are meant to remain upright, as are the animals inside the trailer).


 CALL THE EXPERTS

The first thing I can implore you is this: if you have an animal that cannot self-rescue (ie Get out on their own), call the experts. This means your local fire department and veterinarian. While fire fighters may not know large animals, they have the tools, resources and manpower to deal with emergency situations. Combined with the owner and a knowledgeable vet, animals can be rescued safely. In addition, this group has access to a litany of other experts, many of whom may be trained in large animal technical rescue. DO NOT put yourself, or your animal, at risk of further injury or death by doing it yourself!!! Stubborn pride and shame kill a lot of people – please don’t become one of them.

The 1st Livestock Response Unit in Canada... http://rdcounty.ca/251/Technical-Rescue-Task-Force
The 1st Livestock Response Unit in Canada… http://rdcounty.ca/251/Technical-Rescue-Task-Force

So I mentioned the experts. This is my chance for a shameless plug. Our Technical Rescue Task Force team responds to a variety of emergencies: water, ice & swift water rescues; confined space rescues; high & low angle rope rescues; missing persons (ground search & rescue); structural collapse; and large animal emergency response. Our team trains at least once every single week, to ensure our skills are always current. When combined with fire service, police and paramedics we can respond to almost any emergency or disaster, whether natural or manmade.

Which brings me back to being prepared. I can’t tell you in a blog how to rescue animals in any situation. Every situation is different and every rescue plan is different based on the circumstances. That is why we train for this type of emergency – we know that there are 25 other letters in the alphabet, in case Rescue Plan A doesn’t work. But pre-planning is the ounce of prevention that saves the pound of cure. By pre-planning, hopefully you can avoid an emergency situation; heaven-forbid that something does actually occur, your pre-planning will ensure you are prepared when it does.

So, large animal owner, boarding barn manager, dairy farm worker… What can YOU do to pre-plan for an emergency?

AROUND THE FARM

  1. Make sure you have fire extinguishers in easily accessible (and marked) locations in each building. Keep your extinguishers up to date and check them regularly.
  2. Consider installing thermal (ie heat based) fire alarms/detectors in any facility where you regularly have people or where your animals are housed. One of the leading causes of barn fire is electrical faults and they happen in an instant; once a barn fire starts it doesn’t take long to go from not-at-all to fully engulfed. Cheap household detectors will not work for this purpose for various reasons, though they are better than nothing. Household detectors will go off with the presence of dust in the air, and you have to be within range to hear them. Commercial detectors are more expensive, sure… But if you have $100,000+ worth of animals in your barn, isn’t it worth spending a few thousand to ensure their safety?!
  3. Fence off extremely muddy areas and areas containing open water. Animals will wander into these areas to drink, which may seem like an efficient method of watering. Especially fence open water off in winter, when the risk of animals falling through the ice is significant. Aside from the health benefits of having stock not defecating in their water source, this is a quick and easy way to mitigate risk.
  4. Have an emergency response plan prepared. Take some time to think about what could happen on your property. Fire? Tornado? Flood? Do you have topography that could cause problems? Consider these and come up with a plan for each.
  5. Know who to contact in case of an emergency. Have a list of responder phone numbers ready and easily accessible. During an emergency is the LAST time you want to be thumbing through the phonebook (yes, they still exist) or Googling a phone number for someone to help you out.
Be fire smart & fire safe with your house & barn
Be fire smart & fire safe with your house & barn

TRAILERING

  1. Perform your annual maintenance. Brakes should be checked annually for wear. Bearing should be checked and re-packed at least annually. If you don’t know what re-packing means, book an appointment for your trailer at your local trailer service centre.
  2. Check your trailer before hauling anywhere. Check tire pressure, look for uneven tire wear, make sure your brakes and lights work before you leave the yard, ensure your hitch is locked correctly and that your safety chains are hooked up (Correctly too!). And finally… DO NOT forget to hook up your breakaway brake cable, separately from your safety chains (if your brake cable is hooked to your chains, it won’t always engage if your trailer becomes separated from your tow vehicle). As an FYI – being passed on the highway by your own trailer is not a fun feeling.
  3. Carry a roadside safety kit (reflective safety vest, roadside flares or marking triangles & a first aid kit) and extra supplies. Remember Murphy’s Law – you don’t want to be caught on the side of the highway at night without reflective protection for you and your rig. Consider having not 1, but 2 spare tires (if you run something over, what are the odds only one tire will go flat on a tandem trailer?!).
  4. Consider some nice “creature comforts” such as wireless tire pressure monitors (TPMS) so you can see your trailer tire air pressure in real-time, a wireless camera so you can see inside the livestock compartment and monitor your precious cargo, and 12V powered fans for hauling in hot weather. You’d be amazed at how little airflow comes into your trailer through the vents and windows, and when you’re broken down on the side of the road, the airflow is decreased to almost zero unless you have a stiff breeze.
  5. As a general rule of thumb, have one halter per animal you are hauling (assuming they are halter broke of course) in case you need to exit the trailer, switch to another trailer or even in the instance that you have an accident that overturns your rig.  Also consider having a livestock first aid kit (think human first aid kid, just larger gauze pads and wraps!) in case your animals cut themselves in transit.
Whether your trailer looks like this....
Whether your trailer looks like this….
or this... Be prepared.
or this… Be prepared.

There are so many ways you can prepare yourself, and so many resources available to help you prepare for a livestock emergency. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and when you have a livestock emergency certainly the last thing you want to be worrying about is why you didn’t prepare. Hopefully for you and your animals, you’ll never have to use the skills or the resources you’ve put in place. But you can take solace in knowing that if something were to happen, you would be prepared and that preparation may actually save the life of your animal…or you.

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Who Are You Here For?

Empathy: ~noun

1. the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
Far too often, particularly in today’s modern society of 140 characters, sound bites, scrolling news, smartphones and rushing throughout our daily grind, we forget to stop and experience one of the things that makes us truly human: empathy.  Not to be confused with sympathy, which is the state of sharing the feelings of another, empathy is a far more subtle and elusive response.  So as you read this, I want to ask you one question: when was the last time you actually showed empathy to another human being?
Now I implore you to ask yourself this: Do you know someone who suffers from a mental health illness? Since 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health illness at some point in their life, and 2 out of every 3 people who experience a mental illness suffer in silence for fear of rejection, I’m guessing that you do, even if you don’t realize it. Add a stressful job or profession into the mix, and the incidence of mental illness increases.  Professionals such as paramedics, police, firefighters, military and farmers all have increased incidences of stress, trauma and mental related illnesses.  Wait a second… Did I just say farmers? In fact, I did… As reported by Newsweek in a 2014 article (http://www.newsweek.com/death-farm-248127), farmers experience a suicide rate nearly twice that of the general population.  Yes, farming is a stressful profession.  Often your entire equity is tied to your land, your equipment or your livestock. Market fluctuations, weather and other unexpected occurrences can be extremely stressful events because it puts your income and your equity at risk.  Imagine not knowing each day if you were going to have a wage payment or not, while having the constant reminder that bill payments were due regardless of what income you derived.  Not exactly something that paints a picture of confidence, is it?!
So what can we do to support farmers? What have we done?  While it’s excellent that organizations like Newsweek are shedding light on the issue and there are broader mental health initiatives like Bell’s “Let’s Talk”, action is needed to draw further attention and garner support.  Queue a Saskatchewan-based farm technology organization called Farm at Hand (@FarmatHand on Twitter) and their recent #HereForFarmers campaign. Running through March and April 2015, the Here For Farmers campaign originally aimed to generate $6,600 through sales of tongue-in-cheek farm related t-shirts representing 3 common end-use products derived from agriculture (beer, bread & steak).  The goal of this donation campaign was to donate $1,500 to the Farm Stress Line (http://www.agriculture.gov.sk.ca/FarmStressLine or 1-800-667-4442), an organization whose mission is to provide confidential telephone counselling, support, information and referral services that respond to the needs of rural people, families and communities.  So, a campaign was started, and you, the agriculture industry and those who support the industry, responded in a way that could not possibly have been foreseen.
In 1 month alone, the support generated for the Here For Farmers campaign more than doubled the initial goal.  The silver lining?  Here For Farmers was able to donate nearly $7,000 to the Farm Stress Line, including a $1,000 matching donation from Farm Business Consultants (fbc.ca), a rural income tax consulting firm.  That’s an increase of over 350% from the original campaign goal!
Campaigns and support such as this are just the tip of the iceberg; it behooves us to maintain the momentum to create awareness of agriculture related mental health issues, and to fund programs that provide support to farmers.  Our work has just begun and it doesn’t stop here.  Sure, we have some cool t-shirts and we can feel good about the support we have provided thus far… But it’s incumbent upon us to do more.
Volunteer. Advocate. Provide financial support. Talk about the issues – with farmers and non-farmers alike. Don’t let someone you know suffer in silence. Help end the stigma.  But ultimately, show who you are really here for: yourself, your family, your friends and neighbours, those you know and those you don’t.  Show that you are human.  Show empathy.  Be here, for your fellow human beings.  After all, isn’t that who we all should be here for?