Famous last words, as we saw last year, with the incredible flooding in the normally dry areas of southwest Saskatchewan and even up into Yorkton area. Catastrophic flooding which destroyed rail lines, highways and washed away valuable farmland and pastures. Homes which have never seen flood waters all of asudden were not just waterfront but water-immersed properties. Fires, floods, tornados, blizzards, ice storms, drought and other natural disasters can seemingly be predicted. That we base many of those predictions on only 100 or so years of record keeping, and on the best guesses of science doesn’t dissuade people from believing, “That NEVER happens HERE!”
Never is a long time. Never is one of those situations that should never be banked on. Who would have thought in January 49 of 50 states in the U.S. would have snow on the same day, and the lone holdout, Florida, had their snow two days before?
This winter many communities known for their winter and mountain sports have seen flooding, ice storms and other weather oddities. It is one thing for a town or a tourist destination to be prepared for the unexpected, but it can be another thing entirely for a producer with livestock or who lives some distance from town to be prepared.
My husband went through two years of ag diploma at our kitchen table, the only thing I didn’t do was write exams and get the diploma. I know for producers the bottom line is always the big question — how much does it cost me to do (whatever)? I don’t know your operation but I can guess you do pretty well. You know how much it would cost to replace infrastructure, equipment, animals and effort. But do you know how much it would cost in comparison to the time invested in being prepared? I would think 10:1 would be a fair ratio — a pound of prevention for an ounce of cure.
The biggest cost in preparedness is time and effort — do you have the time to sit down and have a plan with your family? The measure in Canada and the U.S. is to plan for 72 hours without essential services like power or outside assistance. In other more remote areas you should be aware that up to five days without assistance is your measure. If you have not sat down with your family and your business partners, even your neighbours, to discuss a plan perhaps that should be the first step. There are some great online resources, which will be listed at the end of this article for you to access.
Coming from an emergency services and preparedness background I see things a bit differently than some folks who are looking purely at their usual annual plans and forecasts. There are basic kits for families, but farmers need something a bit more robust. And for producers who don’t have livestock, but perhaps have hobby animals or pets, don’t skip the animal parts! Even if you live “close” to town you can still be isolated in a storm or other natural disaster.
What to have ready — and while it may seem obvious — this is as practical as it can be: generator with fuel and oil (tested so that you know it runs and more than one person knows how to start it); stored water (in containers that can be reached by all family members), medications, including prescriptions, for everyone including pets and livestock, food that is non-perishable, cleaning supplies, school and entertainment (do you want to be snowed in with children and have nothing for them to do but ask you what they can do next?!), storm radio, am/fm radio, charger for phones and most importantly a plan!
Watch the weather, on both sides of the border, there are some great sites that show excellent radar maps for Canada and the U.S. With all of our “connectedness” we shouldn’t be surprised by weather except in the most extreme conditions such as a tornado or flash flood.
Make sure your family and staff know the safety plan for the farm. Do you know where the electrical and gas shutoffs are? Is there an all-weather access for emergency services? Who are you checking in with so folks know you are safe? What is the interval before they call for help?
By doing some research while sipping a morning or evening coffee, and sitting down for an hour during the day, your family can make a plan that could reduce the impact a severe incident could have on your farm. Not all disasters are natural — a train derailment or a fire for example — but being prepared is more universal. If you factor in the cost of your time to be prepared, to look at some sites, to actually write down a plan and put together your survival
You don’t have to even leave the farm sometimes to find exceptional, emergency situations you’ve never seen before.
storage tubs you’ll find that it is significantly less than the time, and physical and emotional cost of rebuilding after finding yourself unprepared.
There are many factors to consider when creating a plan depending on the area you live in — are you prone to floods? Do you have limited road access? Are you physically able to perform the tasks needed if stranded for a time? Do you understand the risks of your location? I’m pretty confident that in Australia they did not count on their flooding covering an area the size of Texas. Disasters can strike anywhere — an earthquake in Indiana or Ottawa — but if we work at being prepared we will be better able to handle what comes.
If you have specific questions, feel free to email me and we can address them further in this column for the benefit of all. (Also this website has some good information as well: http://72hours.org/)
How many of you know at least one story of a farm tragedy? A horrible accident that injuries or claims a life? My husband’s Baba watched her father die in a thrashing machine when she was a child. I recall at least three family friends or neighbours who were killed doing what they love — farming. Just last year an elderly Alberta farmer servicing his combine nearly died after he became trapped inside the engine compartment. Being trapped there for over a day caused him to reexamine his commitment to his family and his love of farming. Many farm children over the years have perished, and some are maimed for life. Many continue to farm, through the great support of Farmer’s With Disabilities.
At any farm show the true “Maytag man” though is the person promoting farm safety. Everyone is looking at freebies and shiny new toys at the shows. They are not thinking of blood, of planning for safety, or risk of death doing what they love.
There is a deadly attitude about farming: “If I’ve done it this way for years, regardless of how unsafe it is, I can continue to do so.”
Sitting snug in the house on a winter day it may not seem necessary to be planning for spring safety, for calving safety, for feeding next week and being safe. But this is exactly what needs to be considered in order to prevent injury or tragedy.
There are a few areas where our safety is most at jeopardy when we are farming.
Working with equipment.
Working with livestock.
Working when distracted.
Working in extreme conditions.
Are you scoffing? Are you saying, “If I didn’t work alone nothing would get done!” Fair enough, and I can relate. But how safe are you working? I shudder when my farmer husband works alone because he can become very focused on the task rather than safety. Are you chocking wheels? Are machines turned off? Does someone know what you are doing, when you’ll be done and where to look for you? If his family had known he was servicing the combine, I’m sure that older Alberta farmer wouldn’t have been trapped for 24 hours awaiting discovery.
WORKING WITH EQUIPMENT
Are you using your equipment properly and safely? That loader bucket is not the best place for a ladder so you can reach a higher point beyond the ladder’s length. Are you aware of the safety measures and guards for your equipment? Do you know why they are there? (And no, it is not to frustrate you!) A few years ago, when people used to put their spare tire on the front of the truck with a long screw, a family friend stopped his manual-drive truck to open the gate. He safely opened the gate and got back in the vehicle while the truck was rolling. He pulled up to the garage and again left the truck in neutral, however tragically, he miscalculated and was pinned by his spare tire rack against the garage door. They found him dead the next day.
WORKING WITH LIVESTOCK
It is a reality that any livestock can be deadly. Any animal can bite or kick. Some are more potentially lethal than others, but never underestimate the threat of a frightened or angry animal. We are all familiar with the dangers of bulls, but more dangerous than a breeding male animal can be a mother cow, or an animal distressed by being separated from the herd. Australian-style handling systems make it safer for sorting livestock on your own, but they are not always used or available when you need them. A young southern Alberta farmer died while checking on his cattle, as one of the “ol gals” was just done cleaning her calf. He turned his back on her, and bent down to tag the calf. He had a new dog with him, one that the cow didn’t know. The cow felt sufficiently threatened to attack and she gored the man to death. Horses, llamas, cattle, pigs and sheep can kick and strike, run you over and many bite. Paying attention when working animals, and going slow, makes safety sense.
WORKING WHEN DISTRACTED
You’ve all done it. I’ve done it. We’ve all been out doing farm work when our minds weren’t totally on task due to some distraction. This happened to me last spring. My favourite cow had gled on her horn, neck and hoof. I was moving her up to cut the wire off. Things were going well until I moved a bit too fast and she instinctively struck out with her leg. Her hoof left a mud smear on the brim of my ball cap. Fortunately I jerked back at the right instant, otherwise we could have had a tragic collision. But, I had been distracted, not paying full attention of where I was standing. If you are upset or distracted don’t do farm work. Take time to focus and calm down, it could save your life.
WORKING IN EXTREME CONDITIONS
Fire, flood, and storms of all types and any other extreme condition can make farming extra hazardous. Not only are you dealing with the “normal” business of farming, but you have the added conditions. Last year when the rivers flooded in southeast Saskatchewan there were images on a CBC slide show of a stuck farm truck, then a tractor coming down the road, and then both a stuck tractor and farm truck, then all you could see above the water were the roofs of said vehicles. Was it worth losing both? What if the producer had been trapped? Working with animals in extreme conditions requires extra time, care and patience they are not going to understand you are “helping.” Always be aware of the dangers, never approach an extreme condition alone, if at all possible, and remember if someone has to rescue you they are also endangered.
Another aspect of extreme and distracted conditions is farming with children on farm. There is nothing more exciting than being on a farm when you are young. There is nothing more distracting than farming with children around, if you don’t have a plan. Do you have a safe play area? Do you have an eyes-on safety plan that everyone is accounted for before machinery is moved? Are the chores the children do on the farm age-appropriate and adequately supervised? It is tempting, especially with older children and teens, to make use of those extra hands to help. But your children and grandchildren are not adult farm hands and they require us to think of their safety first. They don’t have our maturity or ability to think things through, and their natural curiosity can overcome any admonition for safety. They are worth the time to keep safe, and there is nothing worth more than your child or grandchild’s health, happiness and life.
Farming is a way of life, and like many careers, it has it its share of dangers. It also has wonder, excitement, and satisfaction beyond measure. You are no less a farmer if you take a few minutes at the next farm show to learn about farming safety. You’ll be a great role model to your family and to other up-and-coming producers if you model safety as part of your farm business. What does safety cost? One measure is how much would your disability or death cost your family? I would wager the time spent to have a safety plan, and to act upon it, would return the investment by providing more time doing what you really love — farming.
The Province of Manitoba offers a grant program to build safe play areas on farms for farm children and grandchildren. This program offers producers the chance to build a play area that keeps their farm children safe. Please check into it and include your children in your safety plans.
http://www.fwdcanada.com/Additionally, many of the provincial farm animal care groups offer livestock, family and farm safety programs and training. Use Google to find resources in your area.
Winter has many challenges for both producers and livestock. Producers are often looking for better ways to not only feed and water their animals more efficiently, but also with an eye on holding or reducing costs. Bale and swath grazing and forage stockpiling can all contribute to a healthier bottom line.
When feeding animals this way water is always a concern. Letting livestock water out of live water is not an environmentally sound practice, and is now prohibited in many areas. Dugouts are not safe for watering unless specific watering areas are fenced off and then you have to break ice daily. Footing and safety concerns when using dugout watering systems are a factor for both producer and animal. Using new types of frost-and energy-free systems requires planning and traditional watering systems can be costly (installation, maintenance and energy usage) and a fixed water source can limit the producer’s ability to utilize their full grazing program potential.
Some producers use nature’s winter water source, snow, for their animals. While this seems a good and natural choice there are some precautions producers should keep in mind when deciding to use snow for water.
Successful snow grazing depends on several factors, some of which can be managed by the producer, and others which cannot. As a precautionary note on the semi-arid Prairies we do not consistently get the quality and quantity of heavy -moisture snow required for snow grazing as a primary water source for livestock.
Measuring the moisture content of snow can be as simple as melting a quantity of snow and measuring the melted water. As a general rule, 10 inches of snow equals one inch of water. Snow holds most of the water content closest to the ground, which is why you can break through a dry ice crust in spring and find yourself standing in a slush puddle.
If possible, producers who use snow grazing for water should do so as a secondary or supplementary water source, and plan to use it in emergencies. Cattle, in general, will grow accustomed to using snow for water if given the chance to adjust, but the snow that provides sufficient moisture should be free of ice crust and wet. Dry snow or snow with a heavy ice crust will not yield enough water for cattle to meet daily water requirements and can sharp ice may injure their mouths.
When snow-grazing cattle, the producer should be very aware of animal body condition and monitor it carefully. Adjusting to snow as a water source can take a few days, and the animals should be checked often during this period. Be sure to investigate any animals which are overly vocal, pacing near their usual water source or losing condition. This is especially a concern in pregnant cows and cattle close to calving in the colder months.
The energy required to eat enough snow to slake a thirst and to melt it internally may not be worth the stress and extra feed which animals need. There is some debate on this and most resource sheets will note differing opinions, it is important to read about conditions in your area and not rely solely on fact sheets.
Animals require up to 40 litres of water/day in colder weather, and unless snow is very wet and easy to ingest they may be under supplied. Cattle nearing calving or in early lactation, with higher water requirements, should not rely on snow for their sole source of water. They will rapidly lose body condition.
Generally most provincial agriculture departments have guidelines and suggestions for snow grazing. It is important to check the condition of cows daily and no less than every two days when snow grazing to ensure there is no loss of body condition or undue stress on the animals.
Energy-free and frost-free water systems can be economically placed and provide year-round water for your livestock. Many producers have designed their own systems and many designs are available online. Knowing the water quality of your snow and understanding your livestock will allow you to make choices for their winter care that do not compromise their welfare and well being and don’t negatively impact your bottom line.
Winter care, when planned in advance, can include snow grazing but the plan needs to ensure it is providing the basics of food, water and shelter for any animals.