Livestock Care During a Disaster


Normally, the response time for disaster is extremely limited. If you are not aware of pre-existing conditions, you will have even less time to respond. It’s important to develop a priority system for safety efforts. The generally accepted sequence for safety and evacuation is:

  1. People
  2. Pets
  3. Livestock
  4. Property

Your personal priority system may vary, but you should always put the safety of people and animals ahead of other concerns.

How to care for livestock based on different disasters


Although the surface speeds of wildfires vary, all wildfires generate smoke, heat, and sound.  

Livestock are very sensitive and responsive to wildfire anywhere within their sensory range. Normal reactions vary from nervousness to panic, to aggressive and resistive escape attempts.  

Livestock are often injured or killed by fleeing from a wildfire into fences, barriers, and other fire risks. 

Once the flight syndrome kicks in, it is retained long after the smoke, heat, and noise stimuli are removed.  

Alpacas, llamas, and especially horses become virtually unmanageable in the face of oncoming wildfire. In situations like this, experienced handlers, proper equipment, and a firm and prompt evacuation approach is needed. 

Spray painting a phone number on the sides of livestock or other identification tags could be used if the wildfire is fast-moving. If you choose to leave a halter on your animal, consider attaching identification—such as a luggage tag. 


Drought is a silent disaster (along with famine and pestilence) because it has a slow onset period that does not encourage monitoring because of its discomfort. The key elements to managing animals in drought disasters are: 

  • Food 
  • Water  
  • Shelter 

The lack of any of these factors, or a scarcity of one or more, can lead to a slow death for livestock 

Animal reaction to drought is slow and vague until at critical health levels 

Drought has the greatest potential to affect the widest area, often impacting multi-state regions at the same time. 

Large Floods

Large-scale floods are more predictable and usually slower to develop than flash floods, you may have more response time.  

Livestock will move gradually away from rising floodwaters to higher ground. 

Unfortunately, the higher ground may not be high enough to compensate for the final flood level of largescale floods. In southeastern states, floods caused by tropical storms have left floating dairy cattle suspended in trees when the waters receded.  

If you live in large flood regions, it may be useful to invest in a boat to help manage your livestock under disastrous conditions. 

Flash Floods

Flash floods usually occur in areas where the landscape cannot absorb all the water during excessive precipitation events, in steep gradient landscapes, or in zones that have been recently affected by drought or wildfire. 

Living downstream from a significant precipitation event is a danger zone.  

Livestock will initially panic during flash floods and have a natural move away instinct to flash floodwaters. They generally seek higher ground if possible.  

When purchasing or designing your livestock operation, it is important to allow livestock a way to reach high ground in each pasture. Without access, livestock will fight fences and be at a greater risk of drowning.  


Tornadoes have extreme intensity, wind speeds 2 to 3 times that of a hurricane, but they have a very short duration. 

Livestock hears and senses impending tornadoes. If your family or home is at risk, the livestock will be a non-issue. If your personal safety is not an issue, you may only have time to relocate your livestock.  

Do not cut your safety margin short since tornadoes can veer, change speed, and change footprint width very quickly.  

Relocate your livestock, if you must, and then exit the area in a tangent direction away from the expected path of the twister. 

Blizzards and Ice Storms

Most livestock moves away from the storm’s onslaught unless they are moving to a habitual source of shelter.  

Canyons, draws and windbreaks can start as protection in a snowstorm, but quickly become “drift over” hazards. To reduce the risk of livestock getting buried by drifted snow, move livestock to a different shelter or area. 

Travel and visibility will be difficult, especially if you do not have an appropriate vehicle.  

If you live in areas that are prone to blizzards, you should have access to vehicles and equipment that can handle the snow. Even if you don’t live in an area prone to blizzards, you should still be prepared. 

Livestock will resist being moved from an area with limited protection and resist efforts to move them into the face of a storm. Plan your management approach as early as possible.  

Young animals are a special risk since they can get buried in the snow more easily and have less physical strength and less resistance to cold exposure.  

Address the young animals first and the older livestock will often follow from both maternal and herd instincts. Although animals rarely get frantic or panicky during blizzards, they try to avoid the wind, cold and poor footing. 

In ice storms, rapid onsets of freezing rain combined with the risks of blizzards increase the chances for extreme hypothermia.  

Move livestock promptly to shelter where feed is available.  

Forage is often temporarily inaccessible during and immediately after ice storms.  

Animal reactions to ice storms are similar to that of blizzards. 


Sudden downslides of ice, snow, and dirt are difficult to plan against. When there is a heightened avalanche risk, move livestock away from the risk area because these events are fast and unpredictable. If your pasture, pens, or egress road are below a slope that is steep and accumulates snow, be cautious. If you want to learn more, classes in avalanche conditions are available in most areas. 

Difficulties You May Encounter During a Disaster  

List of Examples

If you have time to address the safety of livestock, you may notice the following difficulties: 

  • Animals that are stressed are difficult to control  
  • Access and transportation difficulties. 
  • Animal evacuation from a disaster area must occur in a coordinated manner under the direction of the incident command team 
  • Having properly designed and effectively maintained equipment and facilities are critical during disasters. 

Review the fact sheet for additional information on livestock care during a disaster.