Christine Navarre didn't set out to be a disaster expert. But, three days after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, she started her job as Louisiana State University Extension veterinarian. The first phone call she got was someone asking what to do with all the dead cattle and horses around New Orleans.
Katrina was followed by Hurricanes Rita, Ike, Gustav, an oil spill and several close calls when the Mississippi River threatened to pour over the levees. What Navarre learned from dealing with large-scale natural disasters starts with three words: plan, plan, plan.
DISASTER KITS -- Have a disaster kit ready, including a week's worth of food, water and batteries. Don't forget cash. Whether it is your family's needs or those of your livestock, keep lists of needed supplies and last-minute chores for times you're dealing with warnings, whether it's a hurricane or a blizzard.
WRITTEN PLAN -- Share a written plan with family, employees and others. Communication during natural disasters can be difficult. Include evacuation plans, routes and meeting places. Maps of your property, insurance information and a contacts list are also critical.
HERD HEALTH AND IDs -- Even if you're not in a brand state, Navarre recommends branding your animals. Cattle-rustling after disasters is real. It's also important to do what you can to maximize herd health. Cattle are extremely stressed when they go through natural disasters. The healthier they are going in, the better they're going to be able to handle it.
LOW-STRESS HANDLING -- This falls under daily management, but it can make a tremendous difference in times of stress to know how to handle the herd. Ron Gill, Texas A&M animal scientist, says in an emergency, no one has time for a tough gather. Cows need to be trained to get their calves and move when asked. If they run, they'll often leave calves behind. Dry cows will go to inaccessible areas, especially if they're scared of people.
WATER AND HAY SUPPLIES -- Have a plan for slowly getting cattle back on fresh water, especially during a storm surge when they may have been drinking salt water. Plan for a supply of good-quality long-stem hay and even shade, if that's a possibility.
MASS EUTHANASIA -- While there are topics cattle producers would prefer not to think about, Navarre says it's important to plan for mass euthanasia in disasters such as wildfires. Know ahead of time who is going to do it.
DISPOSAL PLANS -- Know what the rules are and who to contact about disposal of dead animals. Remember, the rules can change in a disaster. In the case of the dead livestock around New Orleans after Katrina, Navarre notes digging holes for burial was not an option because of the low water table. The animals ended up in a landfill.
MENTAL HEALTH -- Planning for a mental health crisis is another predisaster strategy. Anybody who has been through a disaster has a little post-traumatic stress disorder, Navarre says. "You don't have to be a mental health expert to be trained to recognize problems in other people and yourself, as well as how to deal short-term."
VOLUNTEERS AND DONATIONS -- It is crucial to have a plan for volunteers and donations. When Navarre and Kansas State University veterinarian Dan Thomson edited a book on natural disasters, she says, one of the biggest issues was hay donations. Where is it going to go? Who is going to handle it? It can become contentious. Have a plan in place and a trustworthy, competent person in charge.
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