Every dairy operation faces the unexpected.  Sometimes on a daily basis.  The key is to foresee the negative and plan ahead to stave off downtime. Of course, unexpected emergencies mean dairying interrupted: health, natural disaster, financial, personal. It’s the unexpected part that causes problems. Having said that, there is nothing new under the sun so we should try to be prepared and, hopefully, face fewer unforeseen downtimes. While you can’t really predict or control nature, the economy or world markets, you can control (at least partly) the effect that they have on your business. The goal is not to let a natural disaster, human error or even a security breach lead to the destruction of your dairy operation. It’s very hard to recover from “unplanned downtime” and, if it becomes extended, it could mean that recovery is impossible. Preparedness is really about giving yourself options.

7 Priorities:  Planned and Prepared

If you’ve made it this far, take a quick look at this list of seven items. Check off what you have in place on your dairy.  If you take care of one item that is currently missing from your preparedness plan, at least you will be further ahead than you were yesterday.

  • People Plan
  • Livestock Plan
  • Livestock Disaster Box
  • Facility Plan
  • Natural Disaster Plan
  • Financial
  • What Many Forget

People First: Planned and Prepared

We all imagine that we would know what to do if faced with fire, flood or tornado.  Depending on the frequency of these occurrences in your area, you may be more or less prepared.  It can’t be left to chance.  The first priority is people safety.  That can only happen if there is a plan in place and everyone is trained in exactly how to follow it. Every person must know what to do and how to do it.  Practicing for a disaster may seem negative, at first consideration but, if you have ever been faced with impending disaster, you know how your response must be immediate.  It could mean the difference between life and death.  Beyond the equipment to fight fire, control flooding or board up against wind and hail, everyone must have the personal safety gear and training to know what is required. If you never get to use the training you have had, that isn’t the worst thing that could happen.

Livestock:  Planned and Prepared

When we have ensured the safety of people to the best of our ability, we are in a far better place to effectively look after the livestock in our care. When faced with the stress of evacuation, we need to have a clear idea of what options are available so that we don’t add to the stress of an already stressful situation. Depending on the type of disaster, it could take days for help to come. Every facility will have to determine a basic response and give consideration to an exit strategy. Getting to high dry land or moving cattle through smoke or debris may have a chance of success, if a plan has foreseen the particular needs that will be required. If the emergency situation is ongoing or vastly destructive, it will be absolutely necessary to have longer term preparation, including facilities or shelter to move to. Survey your property for the best location for animal sheltering (free from debris, hazards from potentially falling or fallen trees etc.)

Livestock Disaster Box: Planned and Prepared

  • It is human nature to avoid bad news. It is also human nature to procrastinate. The two together might prevent you from dealing with disaster planning and preparation.  If you do only one thing (after taking care of your family emergency kit) make sure that you have a livestock disaster box that is prepared and accessible. Check off items you have ready to go.
  • Ropes, halters, chains
  • Feed, hay, supplements and medicines
  • Copies of ownership papers
  • Buckets or feed nets
  • Garden hose
  • Flashlight or lantern
  • Blankets or tarps
  • Wind-up flashlight.
  • Hand crank or battery powered radio
  • Extra batteries
  • Multipurpose tool (i.e. Swiss army knife)
  • Livestock first aid supplies

Note: Often we place our emergency kits where we think the emergency will occur.  That, in itself, could make the kit inaccessible.  Having two or more will ensure against this problem. Two key things for your livestock disaster box are accessibility (i.e. not in a locked cabinet) and secured shelving.

Facility – Planned and Prepared

Changing weather patterns have presented new problems for modern dairy operations.  Recently unusually high winds in our area saw tree destruction, overturned equipment and battered buildings putting pressure on an already busy harvest season. It was not easy trying to repair damage and prevent new issues, while the wind was literally taking control out of the hands of repair crews. Besides the danger to people and animals from wind-blown objects, electricity and feed supplies were facing spoilage and complete destruction. Storage of volatile or dangerous chemicals has to be taken into consideration. What was previously safe must now be modified for the new uncertain possibilities.

Natural Disaster: Have a Plan. Be prepared.

In most cases, the response time and resources in rural areas are greatly reduced.  Handling disasters, those catastrophic events that stretch the capacity of communication, can only be approached with preparedness and pre-planning. Have you taken care of these 8 items?

  • Know your area and what disasters are possible.
  • Review any experiences you have already dealt with in the past. What worked?  What didn’t?  What would have helped? Take action on the answers to those questions. Involve everyone.  Someone may alert you to something you are forgetting.
  • Generator – Every dairy should have one to cope with electricity outages. Milking and manure handling must go on. Make sure your generator is in good working order. Check that you have extra fuel.  An extended power outage in our area a year ago, also meant shortages of diesel fuel.  Thankfully our remarkable supplier delivered on New Year’s Eve!
  • Snow load. You don’t know when it could happen but make sure your buildings are engineered and maintained to hold. Regular snow removal is necessary.  Don’t wait!
  • Feed contamination. Flooding, winds, fire … all can cause spoilage. Provide protection.
  • Crop destruction. Disasters don’t wait for the post-harvest season. What is your plan?
  • Develop an emergency response and fire prevention plan for your dairy. The local fire, rescue and emergency management authorities may be able to provide recommendations. Be observant of fire bans. Get a fire permit and attend to all fires all the time
  • Winter and spring run offs can turn small tributaries into major rivers – quickly. Be sure you have provisions in place to protect against flooding.

Financial Emergency. Planned and Prepared.

From the simplest question, “Where are the important papers, or computer files?” to more serious “What happens if everything is lost?” Complete losses to fire, natural disaster or an unforeseen calamity must be given consideration. You must prepare for how your dairy operation can function in the aftermath. Beyond the paperwork and obvious losses and animal safety concerns, how will you handle a decrease in milk income or increased building, equipment or replacement costs? What insurance should you have in place?

Five Things Many People Forget To Plan and Prepare For

  • No electricity. What does that impact?  How will you release animals?  Open doors?
  • Know your evacuation routes. How will you get yourself and your animals out of the barn if the normal exits are blocked or destroyed?
  • Dangerous materials. Even though safely stored under normal conditions, a natural disaster can turn safe into extremely dangerous. Consider how to mitigate this possibility.
  • Designated meeting spots. Pick an area near the home to meet in the event of a fire.  Choose another that is in the region, in case everyone is scattered and can’t get home. Who is your backup for livestock care in that case?
  • Schedule regular times to review, test and update your emergency plan, supplies and information.

The Bottom Line

Each year, thousands of dairy operations face emergency situations that could change their lives forever. Your dairy livelihood could depend on how you plan and prepare.  It’s easy to let life get in the way of preparing for the future. Ironically, that very life is shaped by what we do, or don’t do, TODAY!


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