Helping Children with Animals Cope with Hurricanes
By Dr. Chris DeCubellis, 4-H Dairy/Animal Science State Specialized Agent, UF/IFAS Extension
Many excellent publications exist that discuss preparing for hurricanes. For those people who live on farms, information is available to prepare livestock animals and farm facilities for oncoming storms. However, not much information exists to prepare children who are worried about their 4-H market animals or other project animals when they lie in the path of an oncoming hurricane. This publication discusses some of the aspects of preparing young people who care for livestock animals to cope during a major storm so that they can minimize their worry for the animals in their care. In particular, general preparation for livestock animals is discussed, followed by ways parents can help their children deal with the stress and worry associated with the storm, and how it will affect their animals.
Young people in 4-H have a long history of raising cattle, hogs, chickens, goats, sheep, horses, and other animals as educational projects, and to enjoy interacting with and caring for their animals. A special bond often grows between a child and their project animals. Typically, the animals in the care of a 4-H club member receive outstanding care, and the youth in 4-H work very hard to provide all the needs of their animals. This passion for their project animals motivates young people to ensure that their animals are housed properly and comfortably, receive the proper feed to meet their animals’ nutritional needs, and youth work with their parents, 4-H club leaders, extension agents, and veterinarians to provide routine medical care to ensure their animals remain healthy. When inclement weather is on the way, these young people and their families work to ensure their animals will be safe through the dangerous weather event. Hurricanes pose unique phenomena to caretakers of livestock and poultry since heavy rains, storm surge, floods, high winds, and even tornadic activity are associated with these potentially devastating storms.
Preparing Animals and the Farm for Hurricanes
There are many resources available that discuss preparing livestock and poultry for hurricanes. Animal caretakers need to make sure their animals are up to date on vaccinations and preventative health care before the storm arrives. If there is a potential need to evacuate large animals, a health certificate might be necessary to evacuate across the state line. A negative Coggins test is required to transport horses. Identification of ownership for large animals is an important consideration if they need to be relocated, or if fences or structures are damaged during a storm and the animals escape. Some ways to identify livestock animals include a metal tag on a break-away halter, neck ID bands, an identification tag braided into the mane or tail of an animal, waterproof livestock marker on an animal’s hip, or even permanent identification such as a microchip, RFID tag, tattoos, or brands.
Animals will need enough feed and water to survive the storm, and perhaps beyond, if the hurricane disrupts transportation for several days. For this reason, it is a good idea to have at least a week’s worth of feed and hay on hand before the storm hits, and to have in mind a source of water for animals in case power goes out during the storm. Make sure all water troughs are full, and additional water can be stored in buckets, clean garbage cans, or other large receptacles that can be filled ahead of time as a reserve for livestock water. Remember that horses drink around 18 gallons of water each day; cattle drink 20-30 gallons each day; hogs will drink about 6 gallons of water a day; sheep and goats about 3 gallons per day; and chickens and turkeys will drink 1-2 gallons per day. A good rule of thumb is to have 150 gallons of water on reserve for each large animal in your care. Fields, paddocks, barns, animal pens, and other animal housing needs to be prepared for the storm.
Make sure possible projectiles that could injure animals are safely removed before the storm arrives, and pens for smaller animals are secure. Animals housed outside need to have access to a higher elevation that will not flood so that they won’t have to lie down in water if they want to rest. Small animals such as rabbits and chickens can be temporarily housed in doors or in a garage if necessary to survive the storm. After preparing for the storm, and while the storm is hitting, stay indoors. For your own safety, wait until the storm passes until you check your animals and property.
Keep in mind that animals will often react or behave differently to changes in weather. Normally calm animals might appear nervous or easily aggravated as a storm approaches. Some animals might exhibit more energy and run and play before a change of weather. Be cautious when working with animals during these periods of time as their behavior can be erratic and sometimes unpredictable.
The Resiliency of Livestock
Livestock animals are amazingly resilient. Animals can often handle a considerable amount of wind and rain. Typically, most large animals will survive the rain and wind as long as the temperature remains warm and they have a non-flooded area to rest in, and no projectiles damage them during the storm. Most hurricanes occur during warmer times of the year, so although the animals are wet, and the wind might blow hard, as long as temperatures don’t dip the animals should weather the storm just fine. Flying debris and flooding would be the major concern for animals like cattle or horses who are weathering a storm in an open field. The leading causes of death in livestock during hurricanes is a result of collapsed barns, kidney failure, electrocution, and fencing failure. If animals are in flooded areas, encounters with water moccasins are more likely.
Helping Children Cope with the Stress and Worry Associated with their Animals
Young people care a great deal about their animals. Children can worry and experience stress when faced with frustration, disappointment, and scary situations. It makes sense that children might worry about the animals in their care during a hurricane. What children worry about, or even how they worry, can vary based on their age and developmental stage (Gavin, 2018). To help your children manage their worry, Dr. Mary Gavin recommends talking with your children to see what is on their mind regarding a potentially stressful situation like an oncoming hurricane. As parents, it is important to be available and take interest in their concerns. If your child appears to be worried, ask them if they are worried, and encourage them to put their emotions into words. Ask for details and actively listen. Show that as their parent, you care and understand. This reinforces to your child that she or he is important to you and helps them feel supported and understood. Help guide your child through a process to seek solutions to the issues or challenges that your child is worried about. Working together on preparing for the hurricane, for example, might help young people feel like they have worked with you to take an active role in keeping their animals safe, and might help reduce some of their worries. If the child feels like they had a hand in the solution or the preparation, this will help develop the young person’s coping skills, problem solving skills, and resiliency. Helping children keep perspective is important for parents. Constant weather updates, news reports, and conversations revolving around the storm and preparations can be scary for children. A reassurance from parents that the hurricane is a temporary situation, and that the family will get through the storm together, and that the sun will be out again soon, can help young people deal with temporary stress. Children also feed off their parents’ concerns and reactions to situations. If you strive to deal with your hurricane preparations in a calm manner and strive to remain positive and optimistic before and during the storm, your child will key in on that, and might model their own reaction to the storm based on how you handle the situation (Gavin, 2018).
Dr. Marla Deibler also suggests that parents can help their children be in the now, rather than continuously worrying about what might happen. Deep breathing using the diaphragm can help reduce stress, and after preparations are made for the storm, engage in some activities the family enjoys such playing a game, watching a favorite movie, or exercising (Deibler, 2018). Activities that children might enjoy during a storm include board games, musical chairs, Simon says, exercise, building a fort out of blankest, and art activities such as drawing or painting to help kids cope (FEMA, 2018).
Caring for animals is an excellent way to teach 4-H club members a host of skills such as responsibility, decision making, and critical thinking, as well as empathy. Young people often care deeply about their animals, so it makes sense that when a stressful situation like an oncoming hurricane, these young people might worry about their animals’ safety and wellbeing. Having children work with their parents to actively prepare their animals and property for the storm, having frank and honest conversations with children about their concerns or fears, and having some stress-relieving activities before and during the storm can help young people, and their animals, survive a hurricane.
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