Caring for Livestock After Disaster

Credit: Thinkstock As you re-enter a disaster area, remember hazards may still occur, including downed trees and power lines.

In light of the heightened wildfire and weather-related disasters we have already seen this year, we are sharing a three-part reference series from Colorado State University Extension about preparing for a disaster, what to do during a disaster, and how to care for livestock after a disaster. The first article on preparing for disaster was published on May 15; the second on how to handle livestock during a disaster was published on May 16.

Quick Facts…

  • Both livestock and humans can become disoriented after a disaster.
  • Make surroundings as familiar as possible to aid in livestock readjustment.
  • Livestock management priorities should include getting stabilized.
  • Post-disaster recovery often leads to pre-disaster mitigation.

(Note: This fact sheet is not designed to provide a recipe for livestock disaster management. Its intent is to start the contemplation process to make you and your operation more resilient so you can survive better, recover faster and possibly mitigate future risks. Each disaster and impact is site specific.)

In most cases, the response time and resources in rural areas are greatly reduced. Handling disasters, those catastrophic events that stretch the capacity of communities, can only be approached with preparedness, pre-planned reaction and post-event mitigation. During a disaster event, rural residents often find their personal safety a large enough challenge without the added burden of caring for livestock. This fact sheet discusses some basic realities of livestock management after disasters occur.


Disasters, by nature, are catastrophic events that overwhelm the ability of individuals, communities and regions. During such catastrophic events, many things get damaged, including transportation, communications, emotions and thinking.

When dealing with livestock during emergencies, it is critical to re-establish your priorities. The first priority should be your personal safety and welfare, followed by the safety and welfare of other people, and finally animals and property. If you are safe, you can do more to benefit animals. If you are at risk, so is their welfare and health. Follow official instructions for access and safety when reentering a disaster zone.

Seek and Own

The first logical step in caring for livestock and other animals is to locate, control and provide for those animals. Locating animals often is limited by transportation blockages from the disaster because normal routes may not be available. Your local emergency manager, usually found at an established incident command post, may have alternatives. If the emergency manager is difficult to find, contact local law enforcement for information.

  • Downed power lines
  • Flooded areas
  • Unstable roads and highways
  • Gas and utility leaks
  • Debris and wreckage
  • Minimal or lack of communications
  • Vandals and looters

    Leave an itinerary of your search plan with local authorities and family members. Travel slowly, be alert for hazards, and do not enter unsecured areas. Take identification and livestock ownership documents with you as you search. Official emergency responders often evacuate animals, so check with authorities to see if your livestock has been moved to a holding facility before you enter the disaster zone.


    Animals are like people in that they are emotionally affected by disasters. Often violent impacts of disaster disorient and temporarily alter the behavioral state of livestock. When, and if, you locate your animals, realize that they may be upset, confused and agitated. They need help finding their normal behavioral pattern. Here are some proven techniques for doing this:

    1. Handle livestock quietly, calmly and in a manner they are familiar.
    2. Wear clothing and use vehicles that are familiar to them.
    3. If possible, keep or reunite familiar animal groups with each other.
    4. As soon as possible, place them in familiar settings or one that is quiet, calm and insulated from additional stimuli.
    5. Soft music and familiar sounds may help calm livestock.
    6. If possible, clean the animals (i.e., wipe out their eyes, mouths and nostrils).
    7. If possible, move animals away from the residue of the disaster.
    8. Treat wounds of injured animals so their comfort level improves.

    Feed, Safety and Shelter

    Animals and livestock often relate security to the familiarity of their surroundings. In some cases, you may be able to return them to familiar surroundings and enhance their recovery. Unfortunately, a disaster often impacts the familiar surroundings altering the landscape’s character, feel, smell, look and layout. To enhance the animal’s comfort level, find another place with similar characteristics. Move the livestock there until you can remedy the damage.

    Feed and water are a big part in livestock disaster recovery. In addition to the health and nutrient aspects of appropriate feed and water, livestock can become very picky to eat and drink if their feed and water do not smell and taste familiar. This nervousness is usually greater during and after disasters.

    People who show livestock often use Kool-aidwater pails before they haul so that when the animal smells the water at a new location, the Kool-aidsmell is familiar and comfortable. Although not practical before a disaster, many animals will see several holding areas after disasters before finally going home. The Kool-aid approach to sensory familiarity can reduce stress along the way. Always remember that a calm and quiet shelter serves both physical and emotional needs for livestock.

    Reacclimating Livestock

    Since the structure and layout of your operation may change because of a natural disaster, or you decide you want to change things to enhance future management, it may be necessary to treat livestock as if they are new to the site. Let them learn the fence layout and the availability of water and feed. Your native forage feed availability may work into this process if the disaster impacted the previous forage supply. It is important for both animal safety and landscape recovery if you inhibit livestock grazing pressure on disaster-impacted sites until they become stable.


    S. Cotton, Colorado State University Extension Pueblo County range management agent and Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN) coordinator; T. McBride, Colorado State University Adams County Extension director (emeritus), Extension livestock agent, EDEN.






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