I think if there is one thing that Hurricane Mathew reminded us of this week is that Nature can bring devastation with an unimaginable savagery and suddenness. Sooner or later an emergency may come along and play havoc with our lives. But it is not just our lives at risk, it is also the lives of our animals. And our animals are depending upon us to have an emergency plan in place. First, figure out how big a vehicle you are going to need to evacuate all of you. By this I mean, if you have a Toyota Prius and there are six family members and three Great Danes to be evacuated, you’ve made a terrible miscalculation. Sure you can take two vehicles but that means you will need twice as much gas. In a time of emergency, that gas may be very scarce and expensive. Better to get a bunch of 5-gallon gas cans and fill them up so you have increased range to get out of harm’s way. If you have four horses and you are thinking about hauling them to safety, then you are going to need a big truck and a lot of fuel. Also in many locations and situations, authorities may not even allow you to evacuate livestock during an emergency.
So the first rule is: Be prepared. Anticipate early that you, as a horse owner, may have to react much earlier than the average citizen. I have lived in a flood way and I always kept my diesel dually full of gas with 40 extra gallons in the back. My four horse gooseneck trailer was always ready to go. It had a large one-hundred-gallon tank of potable water for the horses, buckets, halters, lead ropes, Easy Boots, a couple of extra saddles, two hundred pounds of feed. We can quickly load 10 bales of hay on top. Remember that this is disaster planning, so we have tarps and contractors’ plastic shrink wrap to keep the bales immaculately dry even in the most driving rains.
I have also scouted two types of locations within a twenty-mile radius. By topographic maps, I know both lie on the highest ground so they are very safe from flooding. One is in a high desert valley that has a large, relatively sheltered central area where the horses can be picketed out and the human crew can set up a central cook tent and surround it with individual smaller tents for staff and their families. The second are two large boarding stables within the same radius. I have made arrangements with the owners to board my horses for emergency shelter there should the need arise.
Remember you must take care of the humans first. Have a rucksack full of survival rations, hand crank-powered radios, hand crank electric chargers for your cell phones, flashlights, batteries, cyalume sticks, water filters, tents, ropes, and the usual survival gear. You need to think through what you and your family need and it must be ready to grab in a heartbeat. If you’re planning on evacuating your dogs or cats, then have a small emergency pack for custom-tuned for those animals as well.
Now you have to think about the unthinkable: What if you can’t bring all those animals. You have a dozen horses and a couple of hundred cattle? Let’s say the emergency is a storm without much warning and because of strained resources orders have been given by the National Guard that humans and family pets only are to be evacuated. So you must leave your livestock behind.
First, you must always a keep up-to-date photographic record of all of your head of livestock on a cloud. Secondly, invest in cyalume sticks and cans of fluorescent orange spray paint. Put a mare band on your horse’s neck with identifying and contact info. The mare band will break if it gets seriously snagged on anything. You take a small label tag or luggage tag and tie it to your horse’s mane with your name, phone number, address, etc. If your livestock is going to be out overnight, take a cyalume stick and tie it with a piece if string to horse’s mane. When it’s time to leave, activate the cyalume stick. Take out your can of fluorescent paint and spray your phone number on the side of each animal, both sides. This way your animals can be spotted from the air and you can get notified where they are. If you must turn your livestock loose then do your best to get your animals headed out to open ground where they stand the best chance of instinctively making their way to safety at higher elevation.
Natural disasters are, by their very nature, unexpected catastrophes. Humans and animals alike can be better safeguarded by extensive pre-disaster planning and research. Understand that the more livestock you have, the more difficult your decisions may be during natural or man-made disasters. A premium will be placed on your preparation now. The more you plan for disaster, the less of an emergency it will pose. Preparation is the only way to buffer catastrophe.