During a disaster, managing your own safety can be difficult enough. Caring for animals and livestock complicates the situation even more. In most cases, the response time and resources in rural areas are greatly reduced. Prepare in advance with this guide on assembling a livestock disaster box.

Create a plan before disaster strikes

In the western United States, disasters typically occur from:

  • Wildfire
  • Flood
  • Blizzard
  • Tornado
  • Drought

If your livestock is in an area prone to certain disasters, learn which factors accelerate these risks. There are links between risk and occurrence, such as higher wildfire risk during prolonged drought periods or large clashing hot and cold fronts generating tornadoes. Understand and monitor for warning signs.

Disaster preparedness begins with awareness but requires vigilance and planning. In the 1930s, Kansas residents in tornado-prone areas built deep root cellars and kept a tornado box with a lantern, water, non-perishable food, blankets, extra clothing, medicines, copies of vital records, books, and toys. They also kept a list of what they wanted to grab in 10 minutes or less from the house, such as photographs, heirlooms, and clothing. This practice is still valuable today.

The safety of you and your family is always the top priority. Livestock care must come after you address human needs. However, preparing a disaster box for livestock still has great merit. Consider keeping this type of box in your vehicle or tack compartment of your trailer, if you have one. Recommended items include:


  • tack, ropes, halters
  • concentrated feed, hay, supplements, and medicines
  • copies of ownership papers
  • buckets or feed nets
  • garden hose
  • flashlight
  • blankets
  • tarps
  • livestock first aid supplies
Additional Resources

Consider the following before floods, tornadoes, fires, blizzards, and other natural disasters: 

  • Learn what disaster risks are prominent in your area and what conditions accelerate that occurrence. 
  • Contact local law enforcement and emergency agencies and familiarize yourself with their response patterns, criteria, and capability. Make sure you also contact the official in charge of disaster response. Give the local emergency manager a brief description of you, your operation, and your equipment. 
  • Visit with neighbors or local groups about organizing a management or evacuation system for livestock. 
  • Evaluate your handling capabilities including manpower, equipment, and alternatives. 
  • Contact friends or family who are 15 to 40 miles away and make emergency arrangements with them for temporary livestock care. 
  • Identify facilities and resources that may be available 15 to 40 miles from your site. This works well with agriculture producers and stables for the same contingency. 
  • Make sure you have legal and adequate markings to prove ownership of your livestock. Refer to state and local laws for legal requirements.  
  • Practice loading your animals, so you and the animals are familiar with the effort. 
  • Monitor television and local radio broadcast regularly if risk factors are present. 
  • Identify an alley, lane, or pen that can easily be used to confine animals and is readily adjacent to where a trailer or truck can access them. 
  • 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.
  • Disaster Planning Tips for Pets, Livestock, and Wildlife. Federal Emergency Management Agency publication, June 2002.

By S. Cotton and T. McBride

Originally published 1/04, 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