Homestead Disaster Preparedness

Considerations in planning for natural disasters on your farm or homestead.

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by Pexels/Lukas Hartmann
Animals require special planning consideration.

There is nothing like waking up to another peaceful morning spent on the homestead. As the sun rises, the beauty of a brand new day is ushered in and along with it, a fresh supply of energy to power us through our day. A good deal of satisfaction can be derived from watching our homestead progress along as planned. Like that first cup of piping hot coffee, so much can be taken for granted that each day will go exactly as planned. But what if Mother Nature has a few plans of her own? Naturally, she holds the upper hand and would likely get her way. As a result, our plans become altered, and we may have to resort to a plan A, B or C, or maybe even all three!

At its core, a homestead is mired in self-sufficiency. Which is probably one of the many reasons that we have chosen the homestead lifestyle in the first place. Most homesteaders quickly come to realize just how critical their back-up plans are to overall self-sufficiency. Never is this more critical than when a natural disaster strikes. Realizing how critical a homestead disaster plan is, it is always a good idea to update and review these plans periodically. What better time than the present to review viable plans which could greatly affect the positive outcome of your homestead during a natural disaster?

Since no two homesteads are alike and each may be located in a different climate area, with varied concerns, each homestead will have to consider its own unique needs during a natural disaster. This blog is not intended to be prescriptive or exhaustive in addressing any one homestead’s needs. It is intended to review those common areas which may deserve further consideration when it comes to general homestead disaster planning and preparedness.

Starting with two of the most critical elements ofk most life forms, we should first take a look at hydrogen and oxygen, which when properly combined, form what is otherwise known as water. So often when a disaster strikes, we immediately shift our attention to food, clothing and shelter. But actually when it comes tolife preservation, water deserves our fullest attention. We can survive for considerably longer periods of time without food, than we can without water. Water is our most sustaining life force.Yet, at the same time, water is often the most damaging force of all;in times of natural disasters, it is responsible for causing the most damage to life, limb and property.

Water

Water, when clean, pure and flowing freely, it is a good thing. But when contaminated, stuck, or frozen in a pipe, it is not such a good thing. Ideally, water should stay as fresh and free-flowing as possible. Water pumps relying on electricity, cisterns and other catchment systems, such as rain barrels, may need adjusting during times of natural disasters, when water shortages or overflow concerns may become a factor in water accessibility.

red barn by waterfront

You can get a handle on your daily water supply needs during a natural disaster by learning what your typical daily water requirements are. During disaster planning stages, take a look at all areas of the homestead and it’s daily water usage. Try to get at least an approximate idea of how much water is being used in each area over a 24 hour period. Once you have taken this figure into account, you will have some idea of how much water is needed to keep your homestead running smoothly. You will gain the benefit of knowledge in identifying areas with the most and least water consumption. With this information at hand, you may be able to better manage water usage in certain areas of the homestead.

Crops

You may be able to direct or re-direct water to and from planted crops. Consider also the water requirements of plants sheltered inside hoop houses or greenhouses, especially if they are reliant upon automatic irrigation systems. Where possible, take advantage of using rain water by opening louvers of greenhouses or uncovering certain hoop housed crops.

Animal Drinking Water

Make every reasonable attempt to provide animals with clean, accessible drinking water. Be especially careful that the water container is very secure and not subject to being knocked or blown over. Keep in mind that freezing conditions, if not handled properly, will essentially leave your animals with no water at all. There are a few things that you can do to prevent your animals’ water from freezing.

  1. Put the water in a large container or trough, as smaller buckets will freeze quicker.
  2. You may insulate a water trough by completely surrounding it with a thick layer of hay or other insulation material. Secure the insulation well with cardboard or other lightweight, wind-resistant material.
  3. Move the water to a place where it will receive full sun during the day. This will help keep the water from freezing.
  4. Place smaller water containers, such as that used for hens, behind an old window or sturdy sheet of glass. Make sure that the window or glass is braced securely and turned towards the sun. The reflected light will act as a greenhouse as it warms the water. The hens will also enjoy warming up behind the window or glass.

Animal Food

Ideally, during a disaster try to provide for at least 3 days of food for all animals. Try to keep animal feed or food from getting wet. Consider moving the food or the animals to an adequately covered area. In certain cases, and for certain animals, you may be able to quickly erect a small cover over the food, but still allowing access for the animals to feed. For best usability and portability, consider switching to different types or forms of food during natural disasters.  An automatic or on-demand feeding system may be a temporary solution when you must vacate the homestead for short periods. Also, during natural disasters, if at all possible, consider using smaller amounts of food for certain animals.

Animals

If possible, move animals to higher ground sooner rather than later. Waiting until the last minute, as the land becomes slippery, wet and marshy, may make it difficult and dangerous to move heavily loaded trailers.

Shelters

It can not be stressed highly enough the importance of developing several shelter plans for both people and animals. You should start now to come up with places in and out of town which may be able to provide adequate shelter. Shelters have size and operational constraints which make their availability highly unpredictable. This is especially true during times of natural disasters, when evacuation orders may affect all. If the situation allows, you may be able to create a temporary or shelter-in-place environment for certain animals using a tent or taurpalin material. In many cases, the most critical climate protection is keeping animals from the adverse effects of blowing snow or wind. Before moving certain animals or livestock, consider whether permanent shelters are absolutely necessary or if a temporary solution on the property can be devised.

Fuel

One of the safest places to store fuel is in the vehicle’s fuel tank. That may sound odd or obvious, but it may be used to your advantage when it comes to your fuel storage needs. Many homesteaders have reason to store fuel during normal operations, this is even more so during times of natural disasters. When storing fuel, it should be stored in safe, approved containers. Fuel should never be stored inside the home, due to the dangerous fumes it emits. Fuel should be stored in a cool, protected place, away from direct flames or sunlight, such as a garage, tool shed or barn. The storage locations apply to both gasoline and diesel fuels. It is also good practice to keep your vehicle at least half-full, in the event you need to evacuate.

You may not be able to safely store all of your fuel for your homestead’s needs without the proper tanks or amount of storage, but to get an idea of how much fuel that you would need during short emergency periods or natural disasters, take an average weekly account of the fuel usage around your homestead.This amount may vary depending upon heavy use factors and the time of year. But it will give you an estimate of the amount of fuel needed to sustain, perhaps, even some of your homestead’s most critical fuel needs. Ideally, try to plan for the types and amount of fuels needed to continue operating for 72 hours. Consider switching to an alternate fuel source, where practicable. If a battery or electric powered chainsaw can be utilized, use that type of powered equipment to conserve fuel and vice-versa.

Solar Power

Address any solar panel issues, adjustments or battery concerns well beforehand. Many electric companies across the country have adopted net metering programs. Those companies  participating, allow solar customers to accrue energy credit during those times when a surplus of energy is produced versus the actual energy used. The energy surplus results in energy credit. The energy credit accrued may then be used during periods of low sun or rain.

It is said that the best laid plans are paved with good intentions. Make sure that your plans are shared and reviewed often with all who need to know. With homestead disaster planning, no plan is perfect, but with a few well-thought out plans, your homestead stands a much better chance against whatever plans Mother Nature may have.

Monica White is a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she’s growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on her outdoor lifestyle blog, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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