Watching the news about the big fires in San Diego county yesterday and today prompted me to review our farm emergency plan. We used to live in San Diego, in Ramona, one of the towns in the path of the fires. The latest data indicates our old house was either on the edges or was burned, the information varies but it was clearly in the evacuation area. When we lived there we were primarily raising horses. We had a clear evacuation clipboard in the barn, halters and lead ropes for every animal labeled with their name on duct tape and a priority list of who to evacuate first in case we couldn’t get them all out. We even had luggage tags of laminated plastic on each halter with a description of each horse, our name and phone numbers, vet info and any critical behavior or medical information about each animal. Our plan was that if we had to leave animals there would be identification on each horse in case someone else evacuated them. If we evacuated we planned to put the same tags on as we loaded horses into trailers in case we got separated or animals ended up in different shelters.

When we got the sheep we had enough small pens that we were able to keep critical sheep separate and they got added to the list and I had a paper with ear tag numbers and data on every individual. I still carry a full listing of every sheep with me at all times in a belt pouch along with my camera and a small notepad and pen.

Our priority list looked at the relative value of the bloodlines represented by all of our animals. In an emergency we would of course try to save them all, but if time is short we might not be able to and we had to make those tough decisions in advance.

This past lambing season we were faced with a similar instance. An odd heavy snow storm in the middle of lambing had us racing to bring in hay bales to make windbreaks and build small pens for the most critical ewes and lambs. I was woefully unprepared to triage the lambing ewes on pasture to save critical bloodlines. I spent valuable time deciding which of several ewes and lambs were most important as we could not make small pens or shelters for all of them. Thankfully everyone made it ok (Black Welsh Mountain ewes are extremely good mothers) but it was a particularly stressful time.

So a task I have set for myself for the next couple of weeks is to again develop a farm disaster plan. In our area the likely natural disasters are either blizzards or fires. The appropriate response to each is obviously different. Sheltering in place is fairly easy for us, we typically have plenty of hay on hand during blizzard season and with ponds on the place we are also fairly well protected in case of major fires.

But what if we had to evacuate? Which animals would be the priority to get out?

In our case the sheep flock contains all the bloodlines of Black Welsh Moutnain sheep that exist in North America. We’d need to try to evacuate critical breeding ewes and rams of each bloodline. Without our guard dogs the sheep would be targets so moving sheep would require taking at least some guarding animals. If we were unable to evacuate everyone we’d have to leave some guard dogs with those left behind.

Our horses are also fairly rare but in terms of overall value to the breed as a whole, I have to admit that all of our horse bloodlines are represented in breediing herds elsewhere. The other stock, chickens, donkey and geese, although important individually to us are not critical or rare and would have to take a back seat to getting sheep and horses out.

What I plan to do is put in place a list of all the animals, in order of priority, for an evacuation in case of emergency. Thinking now about the hard decisions of who to take vs who to leave when I am calm and not stressed is vital to being able to respond quickly and efficiently in case of disaster. I’ll also be evaluating our own personal evacuation plans, do I know where critical papers are and can I grab them in a hurry if I need to?

For shelter in place I will be looking at whether we have a plan to provide for our own food and water in case of a major blizzard or other event that kept us on the farm for an extended period.

These plans can be adapted to other potential disasters, what if there is an outbreak of a major disease? Do we have disinfectant? Can we lock gates to prevent any visitors if we are quarantined? What medications and first aid items should we have on hand for both us and our animals?

I’d urge all farmers to look at their own situations and develop a disaster plan for your farm’s most likely problems. Every part of the country can experience disaster, a bit of time now making a plan for how to handle it could save lives in the future. If nothing else you will save time if there is a disaster as many of the really hard decisions will have already been made. Whether it’s fire, blizzards, flooding, rain, tornados, hurricanes or something else now is the time to prepare.