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Prepare Livestock and Animals Ahead of Severe Weather

Posted by Donna Karlsons, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Public Affairs in Animals Plants
Sep 28, 2016
A barn with livestock
During the Midwest floods in 1993, many livestock and animals were rescued from high water levels. Photo courtesy of FEMA.

It’s important to have a plan in place ahead of severe weather to protect your animals and livestock.  Pets, farm animals and livestock rely on their humans to protect them and keep them safe in all types of emergencies.  The steps we take or don’t take will directly impact their well-being.  Because September is National Preparedness Month, it is a good time to think about emergency planning.  Don’t Wait. Communicate. Make an Emergency Communication Plan for you, your family and your animals as you just don’t know when a disaster will strike your community.

According to Dr. T.J. Myers, Assistant Deputy Administrator for the USDA APHIS Surveillance, Preparedness and Response Services, “Having a plan in place to protect animals and livestock is the best defense against severe weather.  Re-evaluating that plan periodically can make a huge difference and save valuable time during an emergency.”

Think ahead and try to implement some of these precautionary measures:

  • Build a strong shelter.  Make sure you have a sturdy shelter that can protect animals and livestock from the elements. It should be able to sustain high winds and heavy rain and keep them all dry. Consider building it on high ground to avoid flooding. A livestock shelter should provide enough space for each animal.  A general guideline is to provide enough space roughly four times its body size.  This will help keep each animal comfortable during very uncomfortable situations.
  • Have adequate food and water.  Provide adequate supplies for animals and livestock.  This will be important if you aren’t able to reach them for a day or so.  They should have plenty of food and a steady supply of water to sustain them throughout a severe weather event. During extremely cold temperatures, water will freeze.  You will need to break up ice or replace the frozen water.
  • Provide warm bedding.  During a blizzard or extremely frigid weather, warm bedding is essential for all livestock.  Heavy rains also can make the air cold and moist.  Make sure that there is adequate bedding for each animal whether it gets used or not.  Replace it when needed.
  • Provide adequate cooling options.  Excessive heat can be hazardous to livestock and other animals.  Make sure shaded areas are available and provide an adequate amount of water.  Animals might drink more on extremely hot days.  Provide proper ventilation and install fans or open barn doors to keep air moving.  Some animals might need sprinklers to keep cool or to get their hooves wet to keep body temperatures normal.
  • Assess farm safety.  Check the safety of your farm and consider the condition of your home, barns and sheds for sustainability of high winds as well as heavy rains or snow.  Take corrective action now and reassess periodically.  Check low-laying areas that could easily flood and take preventable measures to protect your pets, livestock and your entire property.

How best to protect your livestock and farm animals in extreme weather will depend on the size of your herds, what type of animals you have and how extreme the weather actually gets. Providing the basics – food, water and shelter will go a long way to keeping them safe.  More information is available in the Do YOU Have a Plan for Your Livestock Should Disaster Strike? USDA Preparedness Fact Sheet (PDF, 136 KB).

Additionally, APHIS maintains the National Animal Health Emergency Response Corps (NAHERC), a group of veterinary support personnel who respond to disease outbreaks and other disasters that affect livestock, poultry, companion animals and wildlife.  You can learn more about NAHERC at

Category/Topic: Animals Plants