BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. — Clear-cut standard operating procedures and well-designed facilities are key elements of disaster preparedness, with regard to livestock handling.
Farms must also take extra steps to protect their operations against biosecurity threats.
Those were among the key points raised by Ontario County Cooperative Extension agent Jim Ochterski during a six-hour Farm Disaster Preparation Certificate Program on March 7 in Ballston Spa, Saratoga County.
“One of every five farm injuries is the result of bad interaction between people and animals,” Ochterski said. “Animals are dangerous. When it comes to large livestock, we don’t want employees freelancing. You wouldn’t treat a 1,200-pound cow the same as you would a 40-pound dog.”
That’s why putting standard operating procedures in place is critical, so that all employees know how to respond to problem incidents. For example, it pays to have a prearranged “down cow” protocol that would be used for any sick or injured cow, he said.
After finding the cow, specific steps would include removing obstacles; barring other animals from the site; contacting a person assigned to dealing with these situations; getting equipment needed to help the cow, including a tractor and halter; moving the animal to a predetermined area, and setting up for treatment.
“It’s spelled right out,” Ochterski said. “This is a small thing, but it can prevent something bad from happening to an employee or livestock on your farm.”
Thirty farmers from Saratoga, Rensselaer, Washington and Montgomery counties turned out for the event. By completing the program, they’re eligible for 10 percent insurance discounts that could range from a few hundred to $1,500, depending on the size of their business.
Ochterski created the program two years ago in response to major disasters New York farms have dealt with recently, such as devastating floods caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. Discounts are available through Glenmont, N.Y.-based Farm Family Insurance Co. and Finger Lakes Fire & Casualty Co.
New York is the first state in the U.S. to offer the program, but Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont have expressed interest in replicating it. Ochterski is one of eight Extension agents certified to teach the program.
He gave tips for all farm employees to follow when working around livestock.
“Treat them with as much consistency as possible,” Ochterski said. “It doesn’t help if one person handles cows gently and another yells and waves his arms.”
It’s best to move slowly around animals, he added. Also, he pointed out that cattle are herd animals. Isolating them can cause stress, which may lead to disastrous injuries.
Cows by nature have a flight instinct. Simply walking toward a cow can get it to back up. Or, approaching it from behind (not directly behind) can make the cow move forward.
“We can use this instinct to our advantage,” Ochterski said. “Your employees should be aware that they don’t have to grab animals and manhandle them.”
With regard to facilities, he said all farms should have a designated outdoor containment area in case barns are damaged by strong winds, a tornado or heavy snow and ice.
During a natural disaster, most local officials are busy taking care of people and don’t have time for animals. It’s not a good time to be moving animals to other locations.
“If you can take care of yourself with an on-farm evacuation plan, you’re going to be in a much better situation,” Ochterski said.
Biosecurity has become a major issue during the past 10 to 12 years. Hoof-and-mouth disease, E. pcoli and salmonella outbreaks have had devastating impacts on beef, spinach and peanut butter, respectively.
So far, the dairy industry hasn’t been affected, but farmers should remain vigilant by taking proactive steps, Ochterski said. They are:
Resistance/recognition: Keep animals healthy with vaccinations. Employees should also be trained to recognize symptoms so that illness is stopped before spreading to other animals.
Isolation: All livestock that goes to a fair should be isolated for two weeks afterward to make sure it hasn’t picked up a disease.
Traffic control: For example, when working with cows, start with young healthy ones first and then move to older ones. Traffic control also means restricting access to cows by farm visitors. Specifically, anyone who’s been outside the U.S. recently should not be allowed on a farm because of disease they might be carrying, Ochterski said.
Sanitation: All farms should have a foot bath to keep people from spreading manure from one farm to another.
“That includes your milk hauler,” Ochterski said. “By doing these things, you will prevent a livestock disease outbreak disaster.”