Most people are aware of the national and regional scale animal catastrophes in North America in the last decade: avian influenza outbreaks in Virginia, British Columbia, Maryland, and Delaware; hurricanes Katrina and Rita; flooding in the Midwest; and oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and the Kalamazoo River, to name a few. These have resulted in mass disposal of poultry, livestock and wildlife.

Other Disaster Types
Equally massive, but less familiar to most people, are the more frequent and more numerous farm-scale catastrophes: facility fires, rangeland wildfires, power outages, ventilation failure, prolonged heat stress, blizzards, feed poisoning, manure gas poisoning, and building collapse. We searched the World Wide Web in order to find news stories about “local” animal emergencies in the U.S. since the beginning of 2011. We wanted to learn about how often farm-scale disasters happen (see Table 1 below) and how people and communities managed or handled the emergencies.

Granted, this list is not comprehensive, as some incidences of animal death never make public news sources. Manure pump-out is an example here. Farmers may lose small numbers of animals as gases are emitted from the manure being removed from below floor storage.

What We Found
How effectively animal emergencies are managed is frequently not well-known. Typically, news stories give time, place, animal type, and immediate responses. Few other details about animal euthanasia, depopulation, carcass disposal, and clean-up are found in popular press. We could not find any follow-up articles about the effectiveness of responders or costs of clean-up.

We found one article about how the mortalities were managed. In the case of the Goodhue, Minnesota swine barn fire, the farmer worked with county authorities, staff from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Board of Animal Health and agreed to compost the carcasses.

Composting was done on a concrete slab adjacent to the farm’s current composting site and large enough to contain the compost pile. Bulking agent was hauled in and the finished compost was applied to the cropland of the farm. Remains of the building were recycled and placed in a landfill.

Something to Note
Responsibility for disaster management and the resources available for animal emergencies depend on the scale and the cause. Local level catastrophic animal losses almost always are managed locally by the farmer and surrounding community, utilizing their knowledge, capabilities, and resources. These disasters can overwhelm the farm if planning for such a problem is lacking and if people involved do not know where to access physical and information resources.

Preparation for and prompt response to emergencies decrease the time taken to solve problems, increase the speed of purposeful reactions, quickly connect local farmers and responders, and provide them with access to resources to improve the effectiveness of their response in protecting themselves, other animals, the environment (e.g., ground water from mass graves), and neighborly relationships. Meeting with local and state agencies to develop plans also can provide a working framework to execute plans. Emergencies cannot be predicted, and therefore, farmers with animals ought to take time to prepare.

Note: Work with your local MSU Extension Educators to get help regarding about disaster management, animal emergencies, and mortality composting needs. For more information feel free to contact Dale Rozeboom, Department of Animal Science, E-mail:, or Phone: +1-517-355-8398.