Animal Well-Being Amidst Weather Disasters

Storms such as last month's South Dakota blizzard ask big things of a farmer's persistence and patience, write Heidi Franzky and Rebecca Bott, of South Dakota Livestock Extension.
calendar icon 5 November 2013
clock icon 4 minute read

South Dakota weather poses challenges to animal owners in every season of the year. Following the substantial weekend snowfall on the western half of the state, animal owners are rising to the challenge to provide proper care and relief to the weather-stressed animals. Those of us not directly affected by the snow empathize with those affected by the snow and the hard truth of the losses sustained.

The reality for livestock owners is that the worse the weather gets, the more it forces responsible stockmen to be outside in the harsh weather. Remote pastures and rough terrain limit accessibility

to their livestock. Patience and persistence is tested during these tiresome efforts.
This early October blizzard has animal owners out in the elements providing for their animal’s basic needs for survival and recovery from the stress. Neighbors partner with each other during these physical and emotional challenges. Here are some considerations for animal well-being during severe weather stress.

Immediate actions

"If animals were without feed, begin feeding smaller meals more often to minimize digestive upsets"

  • Inventory animals and property at the earliest safe opportunity. Maintain records of located, missing, and deceased animals.
  • Repair fences and animal housing.
  • Provide access to water and feed. This seemingly simple task may be difficult to achieve, but is important to increase the ability of animals to survive and recover.
  • If animals were without feed, begin feeding smaller meals more often to minimize digestive upsets.

Intermediate actions

  • Consider the age and stage of production. Very young animals, breeding stock, and aging animals have different physiological needs and may experience adverse effects during and following severe weather changes.
  • Consider delaying any changes in animal routines such as weaning.
  • Ease animals back into training or work. To prevent injuries, animals in training need time to recover from stress before returning to work or exercise.
  • If the potential of flash floods exists, relocate animals to safe enclosures to avoid further stress or injuries.

Despite precautions, weather disasters can still result in tragedy

Roaming animals

  • Do not attempt to capture roaming animals unless you understand how to properly handle them. Stressed animals can be dangerous and unpredictable.
  • In rare cases, roaming animals may find their way into urban areas. Bystanders should avoid interfering with the efforts of animal owners rounding-up their animals.
  • When roaming animals are located, call the owner if known, or local authorities. Have patience until all animals are safely rounded-up.

Dealing with animal losses

  • Animal losses should be documented and verified by a third party to file disaster claims. Note, this verification cannot be performed by a family member or paid employee.
  • Follow state-approved Carcass Disposal guidelines to deal with animal carcasses.

Coping with disaster and associated losses

Preparing for pending weather related disasters

  • Weather forecasts can be helpful to prepare for storms. Animals require additional energy to deal with extreme weather changes. Increase access to feed and provide a constant supply of water. Providing more hay is usually sufficient for horses, cattle and sheep to weather storms. If possible, increase the total daily hay amount slowly and steadily in the days leading up to cold weather.
  • Continue feeding larger quantities of hay during and following cold weather until the animals recover from the stress.
  • Maintain an inventory of feed and daily resources (such as medicines) that can endure temporary disasters. If storage space and facilities are adequate, try to carry enough supplies to last at least seven days, or better yet a month.
  • Develop an evacuation plan for weather emergencies. This plan should include emergency contacts, maps, and contingency plans.

Animal owners can take some precautions when extreme weather is predicted, but sometimes disaster still results in tragic losses. At times, animal owners must put themselves in harm’s way to ensure the care for their animals during less than desirable conditions. Extending a helping hand of compassion and remaining patient during the chaotic aftermath strengthens our communities and 

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