Producers reminded of animal safety during wildfire season
The summer has turned dry across most of the West, with some places battling drought conditions all summer, and an autumn breeze is beginning to blow.
As wildfire risk rises with each passing day, livestock producers and pet owners are reminded of some animal safety considerations to keep in mind in the case of a wildfire.
In an Aug. 28 Farm Press article, the Washington State Department of Agriculture explains high concentrations of particulates can cause a persistent cough, increased nasal discharge, wheezing, breathing difficulty, a weakened immune system and may impair the animal’s lungs from being able to remove foreign material.
“As irritating as smoke can be to people, it can cause health problems for animals as well. Smoke from wildfires and other large blazes affects pets, horses, livestock and wildlife. Those who can see or feel the effects of smoke themself, should also take precautions to keep animals – both pets and livestock – safe,” writes the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
Be fire wise
Just as wildfire preparedness begins with a person’s home, University of Idaho (UID) Extension notes when it comes to animals, wildfire preparation should begin with the areas these animals spend the most time in as well.
“Structures such as barns, coops and kennels, as well as corrals and pastures, should be just as fire wise as a person’s home and its surrounding landscape,” writes UID Associate Extension Forester Yvonne Barkley in a UID Extension pamphlet titled “Wildfire Preparedness for Pets and Livestock.”
“All structures and their surroundings should be included in defensible space or have defensible space of their own,” Barkley adds.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Association, defensible space is the area surrounding a structure – anywhere from 30 to 100 feet – in which individuals partake in certain activities to reduce the risk of wildfire.
This includes keeping plants short and maintained, trimming tree branches so they don’t reach within 10 feet of the roof of the structure and installing an irrigation system, just to name a few.
Protect pets and livestock
In the event of a wildfire igniting in the area, producers should take steps to protect their pets and livestock from smoke inhalation.
“Keep pets indoors as much as possible and keep windows shut,” states AVMA. “Birds are particularly susceptible and should not be allowed outside when smoke or particulate matter are present.”
“Let dogs and cats outside only for brief bathroom breaks if air quality alerts are in effect. Avoid intense outdoor exercise during periods of poor air quality. Exercise pets when dust and smoke has settled,” the association adds.
For livestock, producers should limit exercise when smoke is visible and avoid handling or other stressful and strenuous activities that require increased airflow into the lungs.
Livestock should also be provided with plenty of fresh water near feeding areas and dust exposure should be limited by feeding dust-free feed and wetting down livestock holding areas.
Following a wildfire, livestock should be given four to six weeks to recuperate until the air quality returns to normal.
“Attempting to handle, move or transport livestock may delay healing and compromise animals’ performance,” says AVMA.
Have an evacuation plan
As the wildfire spreads and the risk of damage increases, producers may need to have a sound evacuation plan.
“Preparing animals for a wildfire evacuation requires an extra level of planning, preparedness and practice,” Barkley says. “The accepted sequence for safe evacuation is people first, then pets and livestock and finally property.”
To create an effective evacuation plan, she suggests identifying an easy evacuation route and driving the route for practice. It is also important to keep transportation in good repair so it is reliable in an emergency.
Individuals should also share their plans with friends, family and neighbors.
If producers are not able to evacuate their livestock, they should remove halters and tags and close – but not lock – doors and gates so animals cannot reenter barns and pastures.
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.