Natural Disaster Impacts on Animal Care During 2017 Back »

Corn field in Mercer County (West Central North Dakota) on July 26, 2017. Courtesy: Craig Askim, Mercer County Extension

2017 Animal Care Wednesday Webinars
Husbandry Practices in the Spotlight

The December 6th Animal Care Wednesday Webinar was a 60-minute Special Feature discussing the various weather disasters that occurred in 2017 and ways Extension and producers worked together to ensure animal well-being. Tommy Bass, Livestock Environment Associate Specialist at Montana State University shared bout the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) and extension programs that assisted citizens to be prepared for animal evacuation scenarios. Ron Gill, Professor and Extension Specialist at Texas A & M, shared about the Texas hurricanes and floods that impacted both human and animal lives. Carl Dahlen, Beef Cattle Specialist at North Dakota State University, closed with drought impacts on the Northern Great Plains and how Extension programs responded.

Montana: EDEN Partnership & Wildfires

Extension Disaster Education Network
The Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) is a national network made possible by United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA), participating USDA Cooperative Extension, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sea Grant Extension programs. It provides Extension professionals with access to more resources to expand their outreach programming within their states and local counties. In Montana, Tommy Bass is the EDEN representative.

Montana is a large state (147,040 mi2) with a population of 1.043 million people spread across 56 counties. Extension personnel strives to serve them all, but there may be limited personnel in various areas of topics. Thus, EDEN has provided a connection to more experts and has improved Extension’s ability to add valuable programming on emergency preparedness topics or enhance the power of response to disasters.

State Programs
Mr. Bass highlighted several programs they have been offered around their state that focus on mitigation and preparedness to emergency situations.

  • S-CAP
    Strengthening Community Agrosecurity Preparedness (S-CAP) workshops brought in other state’s EDEN representatives to lead county emergency planners through various situations and the steps to write detailed emergency action plans. The two-day workshops incorporated exercises to test potential plans in table top activities and ultimately resulted in a full plan being written for a county or group of counties.
  • Animal Evacuation: Companion Animals
    Several workshops and hands-on training sessions were conducted for both adult and youth (14 to 18-year-olds) audiences. They learned how to properly set up an emergency companion animal shelter to provide a safe environment and keep biosecurity at the forefront (Figure 1).
  • Animal Evacuation: Livestock
    “Rolling Cow” workshops, similar to a Bovine Emergency Response Preparedness (BERP) training, were conducted for emergency planners and livestock professionals. These workshops focused on truck accidents that involve cattle.
  • 4-H Agrosecurity Activities
    During the summer congress, high schoolers had the opportunity to participate in a mystery-themed course focusing on biosecurity and troubleshooting agriculture-related challenges.

Figure 1. Full-scale exercise of companion animal sheltering workshops. Courtesy: Tommy Bass

Specific to the wildfires, Mr. Bass commented that some of the counties involved had previously participated in the S-CAP workshops, so they had established emergency plans in place. Extension partnered with other state agencies to connect livestock producers with feed resources (hay, fresh water, etc.). Mr. Bass was directly involved with some of the unfortunate fire after-effects of mortality management of livestock to insure environmental safety was maintained and biosecurity considerations were addressed.

Figure 2. Moving cattle to safety during evacuations. Courtesy: Tommy Bass

Texas: Hurricanes & Flooding

Emergency Response Team
Dr. Gill was quick to share that in times of natural disasters, there is not one hero that rises to the top - it is truly a team effort across many different agencies and organizations that make an emergency response feasible and successful. Given the size of Texas (268,597 mi2), the state has developed a detailed emergency response with outlined responsibilities for each organization involved. You can view the details of this team in the webinar handout provided with the webinar recording to learn more about the Texas Emergency Response Team’s Plan. Extension’s role focuses on the education, communication, and topic area specialty services with most of the focused efforts occurring prior to a disaster (mitigation and preparedness phases) or after an area is pronounced safe to re-enter (recovery phase). All Extension agents go through Emergency Management Trainings; however, some Extension professionals are also trained to assist at Animal Supply Points or shelters (both human and animal) as part of Extension Strike Teams.

Figure 3. Estimated rainfall from Hurricane Harvey. Courtesy: Ron Gill

Animal Assistance
One of the largest challenges during Hurricane Harvey was truly assisting the large number of livestock in the impacted area. There were 2.1 million head of cattle alone in the impact zone that needed evacuation given the forecasted ~22 inches of rain. The limitations of transport vehicles is around 40 cows per truckload, so logistics were overwhelming and time was not on their side with over 30 inches of rain falling in three days and areas receiving over 50 inches total! Extension personnel involved in the Strike Teams rotated weekly at the Animal Supply Points to assist those in need and provide shelter and water to animals until rescued animals could be reunited with their owners. As human needs were safeguarded, airboats and helicopters were used to distribute feed to high land areas where stranded animals were congregating.

Figure 4. Airboats assisting stranded animals. Courtesy: Ron Gill

Recovery Efforts
Additional assistance for animals continued to arrive with Veterinary Emergency Teams and out-of-state 4-H chapters coming to volunteer with recovery efforts. The next step for the state is the Commission to Rebuild Texas. Other areas that will be discussed are more programming for mitigation strategies, further development of evacuation or relocation plans for animals, and identifying the physical location of the highest elevation in areas of risk, especially for farms and ranches with livestock.

Figure 5. Helicopters delivering hay. Courtesy: Ron Gill

North Dakota: Drought

Drought Conditions
Dr. Dahlen recapped how North Dakota received lots of precipitation in the early spring giving the impression that crops and pastures would grow well this year. Because of this, North Dakota ranchers had even shipped some of their hay South to states affected by other natural disasters or that were needing more feed. However, the rains stopped in May and quickly the state transitioned from having no drought to most of the state being in some stage of drought.

Figure 6. Number of NDSU Extension office calls during the drought across North Dakota. Red shading shows Extreme and Exceptional Drought (D3-D4) areas. Courtesy: Carl Dahlen

Animal Impacts
Animal impacts and challenges began to arise. The obvious was a shortage of feed, grass, and water to feed cattle and other livestock. Issues that were harder to see were poor water quality and feed quality, such as high nitrates or sulfates and algae growth in water. These challenges led animal caretakers to test feeds and water and make hard decisions about moving animals to other pastures earlier than normal for grazing or even selling animals as their feed supplies were used up.

Drought Team
Drought teams had weekly meetings to share information and updates around the state, provide outlooks of what to do next, and address program and policy issues. A strong focus on communication sharing helped to get the information out to stakeholders. They utilized multiple methods:

  • Extension website that contained over 50 drought-related topics
  • One-page Drought Resource Document listing what resources are available through Extension
  • Feed list program to connect ranchers with available feed resources
  • Water testing
  • Nitrate testing and had a YouTube video of the nitrate quick test at a county office
  • Drought-stressed forages program: collected samples of feedstuffs, analyzed them, and shared results with both the individual and other producers to better understand impacts on feed quality

The drought also led to extreme financial and emotional stress on families and local economies that depend on the agricultural business of the ranchers and crop farmers. Challenging business decisions were made. Relief programs and policy discussions also took a forefront within the state. When a natural disaster impacts the majority of an entire state, it is very stressful for all, men and animals.

Animal Care Wednesday Webinars

To listen to this and past webinars, visit the animal care resource website. For more information about upcoming Animal Care Wednesday Webinars, please contact Heidi Carroll.

The next Animal Care Wednesday Webinar is January 3, 2018 @ 11:00am (CST). Kick off the New Year with Dr. Dustin Oedekoven, State Veterinarian in South Dakota, discussing “Recent animal disease cases and reminders for producers and youth." To join webinars, log in to the Zoom Meeting a few minutes prior to the start of the webinar.

If you have questions regarding either of the presentations, please contact Tommy Bass, Ron Gill, or Carl Dahlen.

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