Walk outside today and listen to the sounds of your homestead/hobby farm/ranch/backyard. Besides the wind rustling through the trees or rumbling of motorized equipment, what else to you hear? Clucking? Bleating? Mooing? Now imagine your slice of heaven without those warm-blooded souls. Does it feel less substantial? Less satisfying? Eerily quiet?
Unfortunately, that quiet can descend upon us without warning and tear away part of our daily lives and livelihood. I am talking about flooding. As I sit here this evening, I listen to the sounds of helicopters and sirens. We are in the midst of flash flooding. Now our little urban farm is safe, but I wonder what life would be like without our animals?
While no one can predict where and when a flood will occur, there are steps you can take that may make the difference between life and death. For starters, when you begin looking for a property in which to sink your roots, ask yourself, does the land sit in a flood plain? If so, does it have a catchment basin? Does the driveway head away from the lowlands or could it be washed away in a flood?
Other questions worth considering; are there lakes or ponds on the property? Does a stream flow through or is one nearby? Even a 4″ rainfall can cause rivers to flow outside of their banks and ponds to overtake a pasture. This is especially true during periods of unseasonably high rainfall or consecutive days of rain.
While you may feel comfortable buying a place with a river running through it, there are steps you can take to protect your animals.
Number one, watch the weather. Always. This may seem basic, but is easily overlooked. By paying attention to the weather, you will be more alert to any conditions that could negatively impact your animals and be more prone to act quickly.
During periods of rain, make note of what area(s) on your property have standing water. Does the water quickly drain or are there low spots that always collect water? If you have standing water, do not place animal structures in those areas. Think high and dry.
Are the barns, sheds, or coops located near any water features such as ponds, lakes, or streams? If they are, how quickly can you get from the house to those structures? Is it just a few steps or do you need to jump in your truck to get to the barn? Seconds count in an emergency.
Do you keep your animals enclosed in their respective barn, shed, or coop at night or are they allowed to free range within a pasture or run? A free ranging animal has a better chance of escape if it is not confined. If they are able, they will seek out higher, drier ground.
Have a plan in place for a flood. Even a property within a 500 year flood plain will eventually flood. (While in college, I lived in an area that experienced a 100 year flood and a 500 year flood in back to back years.) Remember, know the layout of your property and where your animals are kept. Do you gather everything that has a halter and lead them to higher ground or load them onto a trailer? With creatures such as rabbits or chickens, can you load up a small, portable hutch or mini coop?
Get to know your neighbors. Talk to them about your property and your animals. If your work takes you away from your homestead/hobby farm/ranch/backyard, you may need to rely on a neighbor to rescue your herd or flock.
Prioritize. What animals will you move first? Will all of your creatures fit into a trailer or truck? If not and the waters are rising, you may be faced with the agonizing task of selecting favorites. In some cases, you may only have time just to grab whichever creature is closest. Even one life saved is better than losing everything.
When seconds count in an emergency, focus on the most important piece… the lives at stake, whether it be chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits, or cows. Move as many of them (all ideally) as quickly as possible. Will certain animals, such as goats, follow you or do you need to catch and load them? If you have ducks, does it make sense just to let them out of their shed and swim? As those seconds count down, forget gathering up bags of feed, halters, or fair ribbons. Your prized chicken, pet goat, or milk cow is far more important and valuable than a $6 bale of straw.
Get out early. Don’t wait for the flood waters to lap at the door of your barn before you take action. It takes time to gather and load your animals. Flood waters rise quickly and you want to ensure that once the animals are safely loaded, that you are able leave your property without fear of the road being washed away. Check with your local community to see if an evacuation area has been designated for livestock. If so, go there and unload your creatures. This is a temporary, but safe shelter and so much better than simply driving around with your furry and feathered friends in tow.
If you have the option of putting up a structure such as a coop, build it on high ground. Even if your property experiences flooding, you are giving them the best chance possible.
While no one likes to think about flooding, you can take steps to protect all of your animals. Plan, prioritize, get to know your neighbors, and build on high ground. These simple steps can make the difference between life and death during floods.