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Winter preparedness – Planning for disaster situations

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Casper – In the last five years, both Colorado and South Dakota have experienced disaster situations, says Ron Cunningham, UW Extension educator.

“We have been dodging bullets,” he continues. “A disaster could happen in Wyoming at any time.”

Being prepared for disaster situations, particularly during the winter, is vital to survival of both humans and livestock, and disaster preparedness is important on the road and at home. 

On the ranch 

UW Extension Educator Kellie Chichester notes that, on the ranch, disaster planning must be a part of the business plan. 

“We spend a lot of time talking about working on a business plan, finances, mission statements and goals, but how many of us have discussed disaster plans?” she asks. “It is not uncommon that we forget about disaster plans. If a disaster were to happen, would we be prepared?”

When thinking about a disaster plan, Chichester notes that it is important to have emergency contacts and a property map. 

“We have cell phones,” says Chichester, “but when the battery dies, do we have another place where we can find those phone numbers? It is important to have emergency contact numbers in a place that is accessible.”

Mapping property

An additional aspect of disaster planning is a property map. 

“A property map can be very helpful,” Chichester explains. “Include the names of buildings and how they are known. Also, include grain bins and fuel tanks.”

Creeks, wells, wetlands and ponds should be identified on the maps, as well as those areas that become wet or impassible in the event of wet or winter weather. 

“If we experience a water event, we need everyone to know which roads are not accessible,” she continues.  

Most importantly, ranches should discuss their disaster plans with everyone who works on the operation to make sure everyone knows what will happen in the event of an emergency situation.

Being prepared

In addition to having and sharing a disaster plan, Chichester notes that it is important to have extra feed and water on hand for livestock in an area that is accessible. 

“It we can get feed to cattle when there is a disaster situation, that is great,” she says. “We also have to get water there.”

However, if the supplies aren’t accessible, they aren’t useful. 

Site planning

Natural disasters often come to the forefront when disaster planning is discussed, Chichester notes that disasters can often be prevented by maintaining facilities and thoughtfully landscaping areas. 

“How many people regularly check wiring and engineering to make sure it is up to code?” she asks. “It often doesn’t happen, but these things can be a huge hazard.”

Out-of-date wiring and electrical systems have the potential to result in catastrophic fires that are preventable. 

After an event

After a disaster event, Chichester says that managing for moldy hay, dead animal disposal and cleanup is also important. 

“Once the dust settles, don’t ignore damaged hay,” she comments. “Wet hay is a great place for mold to start, and that can be toxic.”

The risk of spontaneous combustion is also present in hay that is wet or baled with too much moisture.

Livestock planning

“Monitor livestock for illness after disasters,” Chichester continues. “When livestock are put in stressful situations, we see a lot of illness come up, especially with floods, blizzards and rapid temperature swings.”

If animals perish during the disaster, Chichester also notes that they must be properly disposed of. 

“If we have mass casualties, we need to identify a site to bury or burn animals,” she says. “The landfill may not take 40 to 60 or more dead animals.”

At the same time, Chichester encourages producers to document as much as possible following disasters for insurance and indemnity payments. 

“Try to gather as much information as possible after the situation,” she comments. 

Chichester mentions, “Sometimes we can’t do much when a disaster happens, but starting the conversation gives us a better chance.”

Winter travel

Winter travel is often inevitable and UW Extension Educator Ron Cunningham says, “The cell phone is the greatest thing ever developed for survival. If we get stranded, authorities can look back at calls that have been made to rack where we have been.”

However, to trace cell phone locations, Cunningham mentions that a call must be made from the phone. 

“It is important to pull over and make a call so the signal shows up,” he comments. 

Cunningham further adds that even if cell phones are out of service or have a dead battery, a 911 call will still go through. 

Prior to leaving, he says travelers should check the weather report for their area of travel, noting that forecasters are capable of narrowing down the forecast for very specific areas. 

“Don’t take chances,” Cunningham says. “People need to make sure they have good tires, a full tank of gas and good windshield wipers.”

In addition, Cunningham mentions that a towrope, tire chains, blanket and flashlight should be available in vehicles. 

“Flashlights are like fire extinguishers,” he says. “We have to check them occasionally to make sure they are still good.”

Appropriate winter clothing, such as a heavy coat, insulated bibs, a winter cap, gloves and boots are also important. 

“Be careful about being out in the winter in Levis,” he mentions. “Levis are a killer cloth in the winter because cotton absorbs moisture.”

Also in an emergency kit, Cunningham mentions that high-energy, high-protein snacks, water or juice drinks are important to provide sustenance in the event of an emergency. 

In the event that an emergency situation occurs on a roadway, Cunningham says that the most important thing is to stay with the vehicle. 

“Don’t try to go out and walk,” he says, noting that it is easy to get lost or succumb to exposure in harsh conditions. 


Chichester and Cunningham presented during the 2014 Progressive Rancher Forum, held at the beginning of Dec. 2014 in Casper. 

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at 

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