horses

Clemson Livestock-Poultry Health has compiled a Web page with guides on taking care of horses and pets during hurricanes or floods.
Image Credit: USDA

COLUMBIA — With Hurricane Matthew churning toward the East Coast, thousands of South Carolinians ponder the predicament of what to do with their animals if the storm hits home.

State Veterinarian Boyd Parr, director of Clemson University Livestock-Poultry Health, reminds animal owners to make plans now. His department has also built a web page with downloadable guides about how to take care of horses and pets during hurricanes or floods.

“Natural disasters often don’t give us much time to act. That’s why it is vital to plan ahead,” Parr said. “Being prepared can save you and your animals a great deal of stress. Develop a plan, stick with your plan and, most important, be safe.”

Veterinarians typically suggest that evacuating pet owners take their dogs, cats or other small animals along with them.

Horses, though, present a special situation.

If you’re considering evacuating with horses, Parr recommends that you make the choice early.

“When you’re pulling a trailer, you don’t want to wait until the high winds reach you,” he said. “Also, by leaving before a mandatory evacuation order goes into effect, you may avoid heavy traffic.”

Clemson Livestock-Poultry Health has compiled helpful information for animal owners, including a link to the state Department of Agriculture’s list of emergency evacuation stables, on this web page.

“If you decide to move your horses, you should know where you’re going. Make arrangements with friends or boarding facilities well in advance,” Parr said. “Call before you leave to make sure they can still accommodate you. The state Department of Transportation has set up recommended evacuation routes that can be followed to reach your destination.”

Keep your trailer and tires travel-ready. If you don’t own a trailer, make arrangements for transportation well ahead of time. Be sure to have a full gas tank and a cash supply before you head out.

Make a list of these supplies you will need to take with you, enough for several days:

  • Water, hay, food and buckets;
  • Extra halters and lead ropes;
  • Health records, papers, current Coggins tests;
  • Medications;
  • First aid supplies, including leg wraps and bandages;
  • Disinfectant;
  • Flashlight; and
  • Portable fencing.

Leaving horses behind

If you have more horses than trailer space, your horses have never been hauled or you don’t have access to reliable transportation, you need to make sure your horses will be safe where they are.

Think carefully about whether to leave your horses inside the barn. If the building is sturdy and on relatively high ground, they may have a good chance to survive a storm there. Keep in mind they will need enough hay and water for several days since you may not be able to return immediately.

The average horse drinks 15 to 20 gallons of water a day; if you are gone for two or three days each horse will need about 50 gallons. Automatic waterers will not work if the power is out. Fill a large plastic trash can with water and secure it so it cannot be overturned.

A large, secured pasture or large paddock may be a better option in some cases. Horses have lived outside for thousands of years and their instincts should go a long way toward keeping them out of trouble.

Inspect all of your buildings and perimeter fencing. Most injuries during high winds come from flying debris, such as tin from barn roofs. Do not leave horses in small areas where they cannot escape wind-driven debris, overhead power lines or flooding.

Identifying animals

If fences are destroyed by destructive winds, loose horses may wander for miles, so identification on each horse is vital. Before you leave, make sure you use livestock tags, neck bands or even luggage tags secured in the horse’s manes to identify every horse on your property. You can even write a phone number on the horse’s body with livestock crayon.

Veterinarians and emergency personnel agree that micro-chipping is the ideal method of identification. Check with your veterinarian about having this done.

If your horse has a microchip, tattoo or freeze brand, take the paperwork with you. You also need photographs of each horse in case you have to prove ownership.

Get a can of spray paint and write on the outside barn wall “Horses Inside” or “Horses in Pasture” with contact phone numbers. Be sure someone in the area knows where you will be. It’s also a good idea to have a neighborhood agreement that whoever returns first will make welfare checks on each other’s animals.

Once you return home, check your fences, buildings, electrical and gas hookups and water supplies. Be cautious of downed power lines. You may need to clear your pasture of debris or do some repair work on fences before putting your horses away. Inspect hay and feed that was left behind in case it got wet. Run fresh water.

If you find a strange, loose horse, approach it carefully as it may be anxious and frightened in an unfamiliar location. Separate it from your horses, but keep it close enough to help it remain calm. If the horse has identification, call its owners. If not, call local authorities.

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