How animal producers handle natural disasters

September 07, 2017

Hurricanes and wildfires and droughts, oh my.

The U.S. has been hammered this summer by extreme weather and natural disasters. And while people can usually take safety precautions to protect themselves, farm animals depend on their human caretakers to save them.

The weather-related challenges of the past few months have led farmers, ranchers, pet owners and disaster relief experts to take new approaches to animal protection and evacuation. Hopefully, lessons learned from past and ongoing disasters will continue to make people and animals safe.

Wet conditions

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are two particularly drastic storms to hit the southern U.S. and Caribbean regions. Harvey has dumped over 50 inches of rain in some parts of Texas, while Irma brings some of the strongest wind speeds ever recorded in the Atlantic.

Before Harvey even made landfall, ranchers began transporting some of the nearly 1.2 million beef cattle in the danger zone to safe ground, though many were still caught in the immense amount of rain dumped in the area. Cattle were stranded in high waters, or herded through waist-deep floods to safety.

In preparation for Irma, state officials in a few southern states have lifted certain livestock transportation requirements and removed tolls on certain roads. Livestock shelters in Alabama have been set up to provide safety to animals brought from Florida during the storm.

Now that floods in Texas are beginning to recede, farmers and ranchers have begun the arduous task of rebuilding pens and fences, treating injured or starved animals and replenishing feed. Several associations have set up relief funds to support rebuilding, including the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and the United States Equestrian Federation.

A region often hit by powerful storms, Polk County in mid-Florida offers hurricane preparedness tips on its website.

Dry conditions

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that around 12% of American cattle are currently in regions enduring drought-like conditions, with wildfires raging in many of those areas. Some of these areas, especially in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, are considered extreme drought zones, with towns recording the lowest rainfall totals in a century. A state of emergency has been declared in multiple states.

The lack of forage available has caused cows to be culled or relocated from some areas. Land put aside for conservation was opened on an emergency basis for grazing and haying, and neighboring states have sent hay to affected areas, where farmers have lost countless bales of their own hay. offers information on safe animal evacuation in the event of wildfires.