Preparing for Livestock care during Hurricane Season
Article by Matt Smith, UF/IFAS Multi-County Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Agent and Laura Bennett, UF/IFAS Multi-County Livestock Agent
Hurricane season starts in June, but it tends to stay off our radar until around September. While everyone should have safety plans in place, farmers have some specific preparations they need to make.
University of Florida IFAS Extension has developed agriculture-specific hurricane guides that can be accessed and printed out at http://nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu/phag/2018/10/08/hurricane-preparation-for-your-farm/ and https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/archive/hot_topics/disaster_prep/hurricane_prep_ag.shtml.
Hurricane Preparation for Livestock
Both farmers and ranchers first and foremost need to ensure they have a way to access fresh water. After Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, farmers who relied on well water and did not have a backup power source for their pump found themselves without a clean water source.
For ranchers, this poses an immediate emergency for animals. Fruit and vegetable growers are also vulnerable this time of year, as plants are still very young and are not resilient enough to shrug off a short drought period.
After finishing preparations to protect themselves and their families, Florida farmers and ranchers should take the time to ensure that all insurance materials are stored together in a folder that is easy to access.
Electronic documents should be printed out. You can store papers in plastic bags to ensure they do not get wet. Take photos of structures and insured equipment.
Do your best to secure all pesticides.
Provide Livestock identification on each Animal
Having your livestock and horses properly identified is necessary should they get out of their pasture. Ideally, a tattoo or ear tag has been applied to livestock. Waterproof paint, markers and livestock grease pencils can be used to write your information directly on horses and small livestock. Heavy plastic livestock tags can be braided into the mane or top of the tail, or attached to halters. Include your name, address and phone number on the tag with a waterproof marker. Additionally, take multiple pictures of your animals should you need to prove ownership later.
Fence Lines and Structure Reinforcement
Ranchers should shore up their fence lines and removing dead or dying trees (especially on the fence line). Reinforce barns, outbuildings, and chicken coops with hurricane straps and other measures. Make sure your barn roofing material is fastened well and anything in the pasture is removed; all of these can become flying debris.
For poultry, be sure the coop has plenty of elevated perch space should flooding occur. There should be areas in their pen that are at least a foot higher than the surrounding area should flooding occur.
For your livestock that require feed and/or hay, purchase enough to last at least 5 days. Also, fill enough water tubs to last a week, as well.
During the Hurricane
When the storm hits, it is best to leave the horses and livestock out in the pasture and not stalled in a barn. Barns can collapse. Also, avoid putting them in a pasture with power lines because electrocution is one of the primary causes of death for horses and livestock. Horses and some livestock are quite susceptible to disease and illness when consuming spoiled feed; having properly stored, fresh feed is very important.
Growers who own greenhouses and high tunnels need to pay special attention to the wind load capacities of their structures and be ready to slash plastic at a moment’s notice. Plastic sheeting acts like a sail, and even tropical storm conditions can cause major damage to the more expensive structural elements of the building.
Growers employing a fungicide management program should consider a significant weather event like a tropical system as a time to provide a preventative treatment. Care should be taken to apply fungicides a few days before the storm hits, not only to ensure effectiveness but to reduce the chance of pesticide runoff due to heavy rains.
After the Storm
Once the storm has passed and it is safe to go out, scout your operation. If your crop is on a trellis and has fallen over, restring as soon as possible. A plant laying in a puddle is a recipe for disease outbreak. If you have tree crops, remove broken limbs and spray a prophylactic fungicide on wounds.
Those with livestock operations should pay special attention to fences. Trees that have fallen during the storm could compromise the fence. If flooded, be sure the livestock have dry areas to get out of the water. If dry areas are scarce, check to be sure the ants have not also shown up to use these areas as well. Livestock can survive without feed for short amounts of time, but the same does not apply for water. As soon as you are able, supply fresh hay and feed as soon as you are able for animals that are dependent on this for their food source.
Hurricane season can be a very stressful time in Florida agriculture. While we do have to accept these storms as a fact of life, we can empower ourselves by being prepared, having a strategy, and knowing we’ve done everything in our power to limit the damage.