Handling disasters that stretch the capacity of communities, can only be approached with preparedness, preplanning, and post-event mitigation. During a disaster, personal safety can be a large enough challenge without the added burden of caring for livestock. This blog post explains some of the best practices for managing livestock after disasters. Please refer to Caring for Livestock Before Disaster and Caring for Livestock During Disaster for additional information on this topic. 

Establish new priorities

During such catastrophic events, many things can be compromised, including transportation and communications infrastructure, as well as our ability to manage complex emotions, and thought processes. 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 are their welfare and health. Follow official instructions for access and safety when re-entering a disaster zone. 

Locate, control, and provide for livestock

The first 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.  

As you reenter a disaster area, remember hazards may still be present, including:  

  • Downed power lines  
  • Flooded areas 
  • Unstable roads and highways 
  • Gas and utility leaks  
  • Debris and wreckage  
  • 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. 

Provide feed, safety, and shelter to livestock

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 affects the familiar surroundings by 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 of livestock disaster recovery. In addition to the health and nutrient aspects of appropriate feed and water, livestock can become very picky about eating and drinking 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-aid® water pails before they haul so that when the animal smells the water at a new location, the Kool-aid® smell is familiar and comfortable. Although not practical before a disaster, many animals will see several holding areas after disasters before finally going home, so the Kool-aid® approach to improve sensory familiarity can reduce stress along the way. Always remember that a calm and quiet shelter serves both physical and emotional needs for livestock. 

Reacclimatize livestock to new surroundings

Animals are like people in that they are emotionally affected by disasters. The violent impacts of disaster can disorient livestock and temporarily alter their behavioral state. When, and if, you locate your animals, realize that they may be upset, confused, and agitated.  

Here are some proven techniques for helping livestock reestablish their normal behaviors after a disaster:  

  • Handle livestock quietly, calmly and in a manner they are familiar.  
  • Use familiar items to livestock like wearing clothing and using vehicles that are familiar to them.  
  • Keep or reunite familiar animal groups with each other.  
  • Place them in familiar settings as soon as possible, or in areas that are quiet, calm, and insulated from additional stimuli.  
  • Play soft music and familiar sounds to help calm livestock. If possible, clean the animals (i.e., wipe out their eyes, mouths, and nostrils).  
  • Move animals away from the area impacted by the disaster, if possible.  
  • Treat wounds of injured animals so their comfort level improves. 
Author and Publication Date

By S. Cotton and T. McBride*  Date 01/04 Revised 12/10 

* 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. 12/2010 


Colorado State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Colorado counties cooperating. CSU Extension programs are available to all without discrimination. No endorsement of products mentioned is intended nor is criticism implied of products not mentioned. 


Disaster Preparedness Guidelines for Livestock Owners. Indiana State Public Board of Animal Health.  

Disaster Preparedness Guidelines for Horse Owners. Indiana State Board of Animal Health.  

Guidelines for the Development of a Local Animal Care Plan in Emergencies, Disasters, and Evacuations. Heath, Sebastian E. Ph.D. D.V.M. Purdue University, School of Veterinary Medicine.  

Livestock Handling and Transport. Grandin, Temple. Ph.D., Colorado State University, 1993.  

Behavioral Principles of Livestock Handling. Grandin, Temple. Ph.D., Colorado State University, 1989.  

Cattle Handling Safety in Working Facilities. Hubert, D.J., et al. Bulletin F-1738 Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension fact sheet.