Make an Emergency Plan Book for your Homestead

Reader Contribution by Mary Jane Phifer and Steelmeadow Farm
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Volcano evacuation plan.

You Know It and Live It! Farm Life is great, it is wonderful- but ask a dairy farmer when they last had a real vacation and they might look at you funny-“What is this word you say, ‘vay-cay-shun’?”

Did you ever hire a babysitter to look after a child and not give them detailed instructions?  Doubtful!  Prepping for a farm sitter is no different. Planning for a trip helps to ensure that everything goes smoothly, but it is The Unexpected that suddenly pulls you off property which might cause unforeseen issues.  Mandatory evacuation orders? Natural disaster? Family member far away needing care or assistance?  Does your partner need to be hospitalized for several days? What if it is you that needs to be in the hospital?  Who will manage the farm-property-livestock-pets in your absence? You might be lucky to find a farm sitter on short notice, but how will you give them all the information needed to cover the bases?

Compile a Farm Emergency Plan Book (a.k.a The Farm Sitter’s Manual)

Write down a list of every bad thing you can imagine that might happen to you, your family, your farm, and your surroundings.  House fire, barn fire, wildfire, flood, tornado, lack of electricity, downed fencing, drought, medical emergencies for you and your family.  What other things might pull you away?  Parents?  Relatives?  Friends?  For the sake of argument, go ahead and add “planned time off.”

Now- how can you assist someone who will step into your muck boots? I would suggest making a binder with all the pertinent information needed to get the job done.  It should be as foolproof as you can make it.

Begin with your own name, farm’s physical/street address, phone number, email.  GPS coordinates might be helpful too.  The following lists are the bare bones for such a plan- make your notebook an extension of yourself.  Add to it often and update the information as phone numbers and contacts change; it cannot be overdone! I would even recommend to put each page in a plastic sleeve to make the pages “water resistant.”

Your farm sitter has a mighty big responsibility in your absence and your foresight and preparedness can make a huge difference between a so-so job and a great experience. You might even enjoy that vacation!

Emergency Contacts

  • List of Neighbors by name, phone number, email and physical address/directions.
  • Veterinarians: Names, contact numbers (it helps to already have a Doctor/Client relationship)
  • Utility Companies: phone number, website (is there a special number to call to report outage?)
  • Local Law Enforcement: emergent and non-emergent phone numbers.
  • Fire Department: emergent and non-emergent phone numbers.
  • Ambulance: emergent and non-emergent numbers.

List of Livestock/Pets

  • List of all livestock and where they are located/housed- a map of your property is handy for this.
  • Categorize each with a tab- write down specific information so if, for example, one of your twelve goats is ill, the person holding the notebook will know which one it is.
  • Add notes on herd behaviors; who is friendly, who is wary, who is too friendly…
  • Don’t forget barn cats.

Daily Routine

  • Begin in the morning and give an outline of what is done each day.
  • Be sure to include things that might be done once a week (like watering the garden).
  • Describe how you go about doing the tasks yourself- e.g., how do you call up the animals?
  • What is fed and how much do you feed? Where is the feed?  What measurements do you use?
  • Do grazing areas need to be changed? What is the rotation and how is this accomplished?

Where Things Are and How to Do Them

  • Keys to tractor? Keys to house? Keys to farm gate padlocks? Do you have a stock trailer? If evacuation is called for, can the farm sitter load and transport in your place?
  • Will your farm sitter be using the tractor and where is the fuel?
  • Does the mail need to be picked up and if so, where would you like it to be kept?
  • If the power goes off, do you have a generator? Is there a main safety throw switch so you can tie the generator into your farm circuit? How is the generator started? Does the power need to be on and if so, for how many hours a day?
  • Where are tools for simple fence repair? Wire? Temporary fencing? How do you typically fix your fencing?
  • Where do you keep your livestock equipment/medications/first aid? If you are really organized, you can even add directions and dosages for certain medications to be administered in your absence. A goat might come down with bottle jaw the day after you depart and a deworming would be in order if your farm sitter knew what to use and how much to give.
  • Oh no! An animal has died!  What do you do with the carcass?
  • Oh my! An animal has given birth! Make notes if you are expecting birthing to be going on and your typical procedures to handle this.

How You Can Be Contacted

  • This information should be kept in a clear plastic sleeve at the beginning of the book and updated each time you are leaving the farm. How can you be reached, where will you be and for how long.
  • Tell your neighbors that you have such a book and where it can be found. Inform them that you included their contact information in it. 
  • Don’t hide the binder, but make it easy to see- “The emergency plan is in the red binder beside the computer.”
  • Between your planned and scheduled trips, the binder will be ready in case of emergency.

Your cow probably will not need assistance when calving, but leaving your farm sitter with an emergency plan book will give YOU peace of mind!

In a perfect world, time away from your farm will be planned well in advance and you can personally go over your notebook with your chosen farm sitter.  Ask them questions, have them ask questions- there are no silly/bad questions! Your own family members, if farm sitting for you, might not know what to do in certain situations. In the event you are pulled off your farm with little to no warning, you will rest easier knowing that you have left your farm in good hands.

Mary Jane Phifer is a heritage cattle farmer and owner of Steel Meadow Farm in Mansfield, Mo., where she and her husband raise Irish Dexter cattle and Spanish commercial goats on their farm. Read all of Mary Jane’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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