Flock Preparedness for Natural Disasters

Flock Preparedness for Natural Disasters

Reading Time: 6 minutes

September is National Preparedness Month. The idea is to raise awareness about the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies that could happen at any time. As I write this (a few months ahead of print), I am already being bombarded with weather experts estimating a record number of named storms this fall. (Although, I believe they guess that every year.) Here in Florida, hurricanes are a real threat, regardless of how much fear the weatherman deliver us. Tornadoes are another hazard. On the other coast, fire season is turning into a year-long worry.

In 2021, researcher Philip Duffy, executive director of Woodwell Climate Research Center said, “The extreme weather events and patterns we’ve seen in recent years, not to mention the past few weeks, underscore the heightened urgency with which we must address the climate crisis.” With severe weather patterns on the rise, we must be prepared to protect our backyard poultry and livestock.

“As we prepare for potential emergencies domestic animals come to the forefront of our minds, but as their custodians our livestock and poultry deserve that same consideration,” Megan Allan, Community Outreach and State Animal Resource Coalition Manager for SPCA Florida tells me. She adds that, “Ahead of hurricane season, its important to prepare for sheltering in place and create a plan for potential evacuation.” Here are some questions she says that you should ask yourself:

  • Are your structures secure?
  • Would your animals have the ability to get away from rising waters?
  • Do you have back-up food stored in a safe area?
  • If you need to evacuate, do you have the physical materials needed to safely transport your animals, along with the documentation needed to cross state lines?

When I first moved down to Florida, my neighbors — who are quite the homesteaders themselves — told me of the bizarre calmness after a hurricane. After the storm passes, the skies will be blue, no clouds in sight and the songbirds will be signing. However, your property could be flooded, and you could have no water or electricity for days to weeks. Feedstores could also be closed for a while.

After a hurricane, my chicken coop was flooded for more than a week. Having alternative housing arrangements is crucial for preparing for natural disasters.
Waiting for the water to recede after a hurricane can be unnerving.

“Preparedness is key to saving lives and starting those checklists now will ensure that you are ready should the worst happen,” Allan concludes.

One item on your checklist should be kennels and crates. “For smaller flocks, have a way to transport your flock if they need to be moved in a hurry,” Jeannette Beranger, Senior Program Manager of The Livestock Conservancy says. Beranger says she always keeps enough transport crates for the flock in case you need to remove them in times of emergency.

When the last major hurricane come through my area, I relocated my eight chickens and three ducks into kennels and moved them from the chicken coop into our interior bathroom. The hurricane came through at two A.M. and the birds in my house caused me to stress a little less. Having a larger flock, would have meant having a different protocol. I was lucky enough to be able to let them free range the next day. If the damage would have been worst, I would have had to keep them crated for longer and had to make alternative plans.  

Beranger adds that planning ahead of time with friends or family in order to identify a safe place for the birds to stay if they need to be moved in a hurry. Since I am on one coast of Florida, creating a network of poultry owners in different parts of the state is beneficial. Forming these connections through social media is one option. Another idea is to contact your county and states poultry associations. While it may not be the best in terms of quarantine, having a place to relocate your birds, in serious weather events, is better than loosing the flock. On the news recently I heard of a women in the southeast who refused to leave her horses, as the wildfires approached her homestead. I can sympathize with her, but there are better alternatives. Staying put, can jeopardize your livestock, you and the rescue crew.  

Another thing to consider is that the majority of human evacuation centers cannot accept pets (dogs and cats) much less poultry and livestock due to health and safety regulations. Usually, only service animals are allowed. This fact makes it even more important to consider finding alternative housing prior to a disaster.

Having a plan for when the disaster approaches is great. Preparing your homestead prior to the natural disasters is another form of safety that could be done year-round. Beranger suggests, “Eliminating dangerous trees that pose threat to your coops in stormy weather.” Hiring a professional arborist who can help assist with what trees pose potential treats, compared to which trees can withstand hurricane-force winds and could reduce damage from storms is an expensive but worthwhile endeavor. The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is a great resource for Florida residents wanting to learn which tree species they should keep or trim and remove. Each state has their own extension office which can help.

Trees that are most resistant to wind damageTrees that are least wind resistance
Bald cypress
Live oak
Sabal palm
Sand live oaks
Southern magnolia
Chinese elm
Laurel oak
Sand pine
Water oak

Beranger also suggests building with the storm in mind. “If you use a portable coop, make sure it is safely strapped and staked down so it doesn’t fly away. If you can move it near a building that can be used as a windbreak, it will help keep the birds safe.”

Using straps and anchors meant to handle hurricane force winds is a good investment. For those in areas with wildfires, be sure to clear away defensible space around barns and pastures. If you must leave animals, provide at least 48-72 hours of feed and water. Do not rely on automatic waters as power could be lost.

While this all might seem daunting, follow FEMA’s guidance: be prepared, not scared.  

Make sure the crates you use are large enough for your birds to move around in and stand up. This is especially true if they are to be crated for multiple days.
While this crate is quaint, plastic heavy-duty kennels and crates are ideal for long term storage and for transporting your birds. Plastic crates are also easier to disinfect.

Here is an edited version of an emergency kit list provided by ready.gov an official website of the United States government. While the list was intended for cats and dogs, I’ve made some suggestions for livestock and poultry.
Food. Keep several days’ supply of food in an airtight, waterproof container.
Water. Store a water bowl and several days’ supply of water.
Medicine. Keep an extra supply of the medicine your pet takes on a regular basis in a waterproof container. This should include medicine for ectoparasites like mites and ticks.
First aid kit. Talk to your veterinarian about what is most appropriate for your pet’s emergency medical needs.
ID Leg ID bands your pet’s registration or vaccination information and other relevant documents in a waterproof container and available electronically.
Traveling crates or sturdy carriers. Ideally one for each pet.
Sanitation needs. Include pet litter, newspapers, paper towels, plastic trash bags and household chlorine bleach to provide for your pet’s sanitation needs.

For larger animals:  
First aid items
Hay, feed and water for three days
Hoof pick
Leg wraps
Non-nylon leads and halters
Plastic trash barrel with a lid
Portable radio and extra batteries
Water buckets
Wire cutters and a sharp knife  

Evacuate animals earlier, whenever possible. Map out primary and secondary routes in advance. Make available vehicles and trailers needed for transporting and supporting each type of animal. Also make available experienced handlers and drivers. Ensure destinations have food, water, veterinary care, and handling equipment. If evacuation is not possible, animal owners must decide whether to move large animals to a barn or turn them loose outside.    

Originally published in the August/September 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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