Horses and livestock in emergencies

Your animals are your responsibility.

Failing to plan ahead for your animals during an emergency puts everyone's lives at risk.

The following information will help you prepare to ensure the welfare of your horses and livestock during emergency events, such as bushfires or floods.

Plan ahead

Prepare an emergency plan

Prepare an emergency plan that covers major disasters which have the potential to impact on your family and your animals.

Planning should include decisions about:

  • which animals to evacuate and which to leave behind
  • identification of evacuation routes from your property
  • research into emergency accommodation options with facilities for animals.

Discuss your plan, record it, and practice it.

Refer to the Country Fire Authority for guidance on developing a bushfire survival plan for horses.

Prepare an emergency kit

Prepare an emergency or disaster kit for your animals and place it in a prominent place.

Depending on the type of animal, a kit might include:

  • 2 to 3 days of feed
  • water
  • halters
  • leads
  • rugs
  • a first aid kit
  • medications
  • relevant documentation.

Ensure your animals always have a water supply that will last them at least 5 days, even if you expect to be home that evening.

Pick a safe location

Prepare a list of family, friends, animal shelters or other potential location that is away from any fire danger and that may provide suitable accommodation for your animals.

Emergency relief centres may have facilities for animals or councils may have set up specific locations where animals can be taken. Check with your council that they have emergency animal welfare plans in place.

Animal transport

For animals that you plan to take with you when evacuating your property in an emergency:

  • practice leading and loading them into a trailer or float
  • have equipment close at hand that may be needed such as halters and lead ropes
  • practice hitching your trailer and backing it into the loading area.

Check brakes and air in tyres on a regular basis.

If possible, back your vehicle into your driveway facing the exit, in front of your trailer.

Lifestyle farmers, horse owners and rural property owners

A horse owner who went through Black Saturday gives tips on preparing for bushfire.

Speaker: Bushfire is an inherent threat in Victoria and all rural and regional properties are at risk. Even on a small rural property it is important to plan and be prepared well in advance of the fire season to minimise the risk and impact of fire on your property and to livestock and pets. Kerry Rollins is the owner of a small property with horses in the Yarra Valley. Kerry worked in recovery after the Black Saturday fires in 2009. As a result of this experience she has been working on implementing better fire preparedness measures on her property.

Kerry Rollins: Well I was heavily involved in assisting animal owners through the Black Saturday fires in February 2009. After seeing what happened and the extreme circumstances of the Black Saturday fires, my first option would be to evacuate where possible.

I don't want to put myself or my animals through trying to survive something like that, so if I can evacuate that's my plan A. If my evacuation and the horses' evacuation is not possible then I've put some plans into place to try and protect them and us as best we can in the event of a fire.

If you can afford to sacrifice a paddock I think one of the best options is to plough a paddock, and that might be something that people on large acreage can do quite easily.

But somebody on small acreage, like myself, who can't afford to sacrifice the grazing area by ploughing it, can set aside small areas to provide the horses with an area that doesn't have as much fuel on it. I've decided to use my arena and do some fencing and provide them with an area that I can protect.

We've been slowly developing our property. We're going to create some additional fencing so I can create my safe area for my horses, but also I'm going to install a couple of rainwater tanks. Now, we're fortunate that we're on mains water here but it's a known fact that during a fire you can't rely on mains water, so having a back-up supply of water such as rainwater tanks is our plan.

I would advise that you would remove any synthetic gear from your horse such as halters, fly veils, rugs. Although we use the term 'cotton rugs', most cotton rugs are a blend of polyester and cotton and they won't offer any protection at all if a fire was to come through your property. I did see a lot of injuries caused by equipment that was left on horses during the Black Saturday fires. A horse without gear on is probably the best option.

I have considered if you do need to use equipment perhaps you would look to use leather halters, non-metal equipment, no metal buckles to avoid any metal burns because the radiant heat will heat everything up to a point where it will actually burn skin and do some damage that way.

The access into our particular area here is really limited. There could be an accident on the road that blocks the road and making access in and out of this area extremely difficult, so if possible I would say to horse owners to plan alternative routes, think about the access in and out of their area.

If the main access is blocked what are the other alternative routes. And if there aren't any alternative routes well then you've really got to have a plan B, you've really got to think about if you can't evacuate what am I going to do. Evacuation is my first choice, but if evacuation is not possible I've got my plan B which is to activate my sprinkler system and to keep my horses in my safe area.

Speaker: Now let's look at some more tips for preparing your property for the bushfire season.

David Stewart: My name is David Stewart, I work for the Department of Primary Industries managing the Small Land Holder Information Service. We are here today to look at a small property and look at some of the issues to do with fire on small properties, and particularly on horse properties.

If you look behind me here you will see a very large row of gum trees, and in this situation on a bad fire day like Black Saturday they represent a very serious risk, particularly radiant heat.

This is a fairly typical fence on a horse property; it's a wooden fence with a couple of wires on it. It's really important that after a bad fire we've still got fences remaining after the fire, and one way to protect your fences is actually spray along the bottom of the fence about 1m wide with a herbicide that's going to kill all the grass.

The time to do that is actually in the late winter months, so when it is actually quite green and short, rather than wait till the springtime. If we do that we are more likely to protect the fence from fires when they do come through and provide a sanctuary or an area on the farm which actually still is intact.

Another issue here is we've got some sump oil on this fence as well. The sump oil is good for keeping the horses from chewing the fence but also provides more fuel for the fire if actually a fire does come through. So all the more reason to have a bare area underneath your fence to stop the grass growing there.

One other thing we're pointing out, this has got an electric fence running through, I'm not going to touch that, electric fences should be turned off on a code red day to just reduce one more risk.

If you look behind me here you'll see a fairly typical hay shed we find on lots of small properties. If you look up at the top of the iron work here you'll see a lot of it a large gap between the roof and the top of the iron. On a bad fire day that's going to represent a very severe risk in terms of ember attack and the embers could easily go in through the top of the iron and set fire to the hay.

This building here is actually a tack room with a stable on the other end of it, and you notice here once again there is a gap between the earth, or the ground level, and the bottom of the floor. Once again this is a potential for ember attack to occur on a property, on any property really, be it a house or a stable, in this case it's a stable. So we need to put some sort of barrier along here that's going to stop any ember attack from getting into the building and setting it on fire.

One way to keep embers out of buildings is to use a metal flywire, that's excellent for keeping those small burning materials getting into your sheds and into your stables. In here we have got some hay which is stored inside the stable. Right alongside me here I have got another stable which could well have a horse in it. This is a stable in behind this wall here, and you can see outside the wall there is a fair bit of material which has the potential to burn on a hot day. So it's a really good idea before the summer to remove that sort of material and make sure that there's nothing there that can burn.

Another thought can be that if there's grass growing along the outside of your sheds and your stables, just spray it off, a bit like the fence line, so there is actually no grass fuel there at the end of the day that can burn on a hot day. Another alternative might be to actually put some gravel around the outside of the shed, so once again there is nothing to actually burn on a bad day.

Speaker: So to summarise, keep the following points in mind when preparing your property for the bushfire season:

  • Develop a bushfire plan for your animals.
  • Prepare your property.
  • Identify safer areas for your animals.
  • Do not allow animals access to roadways.
  • If you plan to leave, leave early.
  • And have a back-up plan.

Remember, it is important to be prepared well in advance of the fire season. A well prepared property has a greater chance of surviving a bushfire.

  • Ensure your animal identification is up to date. Microchip and register horses on a licensed registry. For livestock, ensure your National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) and Property Identification Code (PIC) details and, where appropriate, your insurance records are up to date (and put copies in your emergency kit).
  • Ensure your animals' vaccinations are up to date (where applicable).
  • If you have agisted animals on the property or your animals are agisted elsewhere, ensure that emergency plans are in place for all animals. Talk to animal owners or landowners to develop and agree on appropriate actions.
  • Determine how you will maintain containment (fencing) and the provision of food, water and shelter for your animals after an emergency has passed.

Prepare a low risk area on your property in case of bushfire

Not all animals may be able to be evacuated. However, you can improve their chances of survival by preparing a safer area they can be moved to in the event of an emergency.

Low risk areas:

  • may be cultivated paddocks with no vegetation — bared-out paddocks (minimal vegetation)— green paddocks — or a large, well fenced sand ménage
  • should be centrally located and easy to access. Strategically placed, they can act as a bushfire barrier as well as a low risk area that animals can be moved to early on high fire danger days.
  • shouldn't be next to areas of scrub or bushland or, if unavoidable, at least large enough in size to allow animals to move well away from these areas. Farms with large numbers of animals may need to manage several low risk areas on the property. It is important to remember low risk areas must be available at all times during the fire season and at short notice.
  • should have sufficient drinking water to enable stock to remain in this area during periods of high to extreme temperatures for several days — and be protected by firebreaks and free of leaf, twig and bark build-up.

Evacuating with animals

  • Know which evacuation routes you will take to reach evacuation sites. Call ahead to your pre-arranged evacuation site to let them know you are coming. If you don't have a pre-arranged evacuation site for your animals, head to your local council evacuation location and request further information when you get there.
  • Allow enough time to act — stay aware of possible emergencies, especially when severe or extreme weather events may cause flash flooding, or when a fire warning has been issued. Decide what you are going to do as early as possible.
  • Prepare and attach identification information to each of your animals so you can be contacted should you be separated.
  • Load your animals for transport, and pack your animal evacuation kit into your vehicle along with any additional supplies you feel you might need. Don't forget your smaller animals or pets, ensure you have an emergency kit for them and they are identified and can be contained safely (lead, carry cage).
  • The safest option is to leave early on high fire risk days. On a Code Red bushfire day you must leave the night before or early in the morning. Late evacuation can be a deadly option.

Animals remaining on the property

  • Ensure your hazard reduction is complete on and around the property and your low risk area is ready to go.
  • Move your animals to your designated low risk area. Sheep often refuse to move once conditions get very hot, so they should be moved early in the day.
  • Fill water troughs and put out sufficient feed. Remember that you may not be able to return to your property for several days, so at least 5 days of water and food should be left.
  • Prepare and leave instructions on your animals' care and where equipment can be found (including first aid supplies) in case someone else needs to care for them.
  • It isn't recommended to shut horses in stables or small yards unless the area is well protected from bushfire. Horses are likely to receive only minimal burns if given plenty of room to move. They will gallop through flames or around their edges, and stand on the blackened, previously burnt area and remain there until the fire has passed.
  • Don't leave synthetic (nylon or plastic) equipment, including rugs, on animals. These can melt and cause serious burns. Radiant heat can also cause metal buckles to become hot and cause burns to animals. Leather halters and cotton lead ropes, while generally not as strong as nylon, are safer than synthetic.
  • Fences along roadsides should not be cut. Loose stock can cause accidents during fire, particularly when visibility is low due to smoke haze, and can be difficult to manage after the fire front passes. Gates within a property can be opened but not gates onto roadways.
  • Where the property is in danger of flooding, move all stock to the highest areas of the property away from water sources and flood plains. If possible provide a source of supplementary food (such as a hay roll) and water in an area least likely to flood, and consider opening gates to allow animals to move to dry ground.

After the emergency

If your animals are injured seek veterinary treatment immediately.

If your animals are lost:

  • notify your local council
  • microchip registry
  • neighbours
  • nearby animal shelters.

You can also check social media sources (often in emergencies a site is set up to list lost and found animals).

Checklist

  1. Are your pets, horses and livestock included in your emergency planning?
  2. Are all your animals identified, and that microchip, NLIS, PIC details are current?
  3. Have you determined which animals will be evacuated in an emergency, and which will be left behind?
  4. Have you prepared your animal emergency plan and disaster kit and placed it in a prominent place? The kit may include food, water, halters, leads, rugs, first aid supplies, medications and relevant documentation.
  5. Have you determined which evacuation routes are available and safe in an emergency?
  6. Are the animals that you plan to evacuate accustomed to travel, and are your transport vehicles well maintained?
  7. Have you identified the site where you will evacuate your animals to? Have you checked with your local council about evacuation options that include facilities for animals?
  8. Have you prepared and maintained a low risk area on your property for the animals you plan to leave behind on your property?
  9. Have you removed equipment that may burn animals during a bushfire, such as horse rugs and synthetic halters?
  10. If your animals have to be left behind during an emergency, do they have access to at least 5 days of food and water?
  11. Have you determined how you will manage containment or fencing, food, water and shelter for animals after a fire?
  12. Do you have equipment easily accessible to provide emergency first aid to animals after the fire?

More information

Page last updated: 21 Jul 2020