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Emergency Preparedness on Dairies

Two producers inspecting a dairy barn.

Originally written by Tracey Erickson, former SDSU Extension Dairy Field Specialist. 

Emergency preparedness is something we all know we should do, but unfortunately it often ends up on the “to do list” never getting checked off as completed. We know emergencies happen, we just don’t know to whom, when, or what type of emergency. Being prepared for an emergency on your dairy can significantly improve recovery time from an unexpected incident.

Dairies lend themselves to some unique circumstances when it comes to farm emergencies involving livestock. Why? Milking at the farm occurs 365 days of the year. This requires a source of energy to milk the cows, cool the milk and provide water, feed and manure removal for the cows. Secondly, there is often a large number of animals in a concentrated area requiring numerous people to care for the animals. There is oftentimes limited English proficiency, and communication in an emergency can be challenging.

Training Employees

Training employees annually in some basic areas, will help expedite the recovery time should an emergency occur. What are some of the major areas to cover?

  1. How to contact YOU or a designated farm manager.
  2. How to contact emergency services giving an accurate farm name and location address.
  3. How to contact the herd veterinarian if one is not on staff.
  4. How to shut down equipment in an emergency.
  5. How to operate equipment under back-up emergency power utilization.
  6. How to operate a fire extinguisher and where is it located.
  7. Where the Emergency Medical kit is located what it contains and how to utilize the items properly.

Designating Responsibilities

Talk with employees and family members about what they are to do if an emergency situation occurs and designate emergency responsibilities. It is also recommended to have emergency contact information listed and posted in an area that all can access. Provide an -Spanish version if English proficiency is limited. Free posters are available through the National Dairy Farm Program – FARM (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management). You as an owner/manager will also want to have a list of emergency contact info outside of emergency services (911) or local Sheriff such as the following: Milk hauler, Milk Processor/Field Representative, Milk Equipment Dealer, Machinery Dealer, Feed Dealer, Veterinarian, and your Insurance Agent.

You may also consider meeting with local emergency personnel and providing a tour of your operation, so they are somewhat familiar with the layout of the operation. Another option is to have a map made up or posted at a central entrance point to the farm (i.e./by the farm office).

Backing Up Power

Back-up power for dairy farms is a necessity. Back-up power also needs to be operational and in proper working order. Testing of the back-up power needs to be conducted on a regular basis. It is recommended to have two separate generators, one to operate the milking parlor and the second to perform other tasks such as pumping water, running augers and manure systems. In addition, to making sure they are working properly, they should have adequate fuel and load tests conducted so you know how much equipment you are able to operate per generator.

Other Considerations

Lastly, producers should have a plan in place if cows are unable to be milked at the present location and would need to be relocated.

Nobody wants to think about the “unimaginable emergency” but being prepared ahead of time will help expedite recovery efforts and minimize losses.