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.
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
- 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.
- 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?!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?!).
- 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.
- 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.
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.