California ranchers bracing for Pineapple Express storm

California has spent the last several years in one of the worst droughts in the state’s history. And as if it couldn’t get worse, they are preparing to face one of the worst storms they have had since 1997 – the Pineapple Express. Today I have talked to both of my parents (Northern California area), and have seen several friends that also live in the area posting about the weather conditions on social media. Needless to say the wind is blowing 75 to 100 mph! The dust in the air is terrible and is limiting visibility, and they are preparing for power loss to occur by this evening. Additionally, rain and up to 4 inches of snow an hour may come!

While these conditions are going to be miserable for everyone in the path of this storm, they become more challenging and difficult for livestock ranchers. Ranchers and farmers know that this type of weather can be hard on all animals big and small, but they are preparing as best they can. I want to share with you some of the things my favorite California ranchers are doing to prepare:

– Extra bedding and pens. During a storm like this animals will instinctively huddle together and try to find a place out of the weather. Also, the baby animals will be coming! A change in barometric pressure usually means more baby animals will be born. Shed space can become limited if this storm lasts for several days. But those having offspring will at least be warm and dry.

sheep shed
The sheep shed has plenty of straw and should be warm and dry.

– Grass hay only! Animals can bloat (excessive gas in the rumen) if fed a high quality hay like alfalfa in windy conditions. Bloat, if not caught in time could potentially kill the animal. So to help eliminate this problem, ranchers are stock piling the grass hay as the primary feed, which almost eliminates bloat altogether.

– Water. Luckily our ranch has an artesian well and several creeks/ditches running through it, so most of the livestock will have water despite weather conditions. However, it is very common for the rural areas to loose power with winds like this, and that means no water can be pumped out of the wells. Water may have to be hauled or the animals moved to ensure everyone has access to fresh water during the entire storm.

– Flooding. Since California has been so dry for so long, a large amount of water may runoff the soil instead of be absorbed. One winter during a severe flooding event, we regularly checked ditches and water blockage systems (aka headgates) to ensure they were not blocked with wood, limbs, and other debris. By allowing the water to keep flowing, and not pooling, it helped to eliminate damage to ditches and headgates.

– Structures. This type of wind can be hard on structures, especially old ones and the roofs. Some of our old sheds have tin roofs. In the past, tin has been flopping around and eventually blew off as it is way too dangerous to try and fix it in a high wind event, as someone could easily be decapitated or severely injured. When part of a roof starts to flap around we try to throw tires or other heavy objects on the roof, and hope it makes it through the worst.

– Fires. One winter we lost several sheds and a part of our working corral (livestock handling area) due to an electrical fire. If an extension cord is plugged in for whatever reason, and the power goes it can cause a spark. And with high winds it doesn’t take long before you have a roaring fire on your hands with no ability to pump water. So my Dad has been checking to ensure everything nonessential is unplugged. All of neighbors try to watch out for each other for fires that may also start at feedmills, haystacks, and other structures.

Copy of July_2011_home 012
Fire is a great resource and can be fun, however, it is hard to control and can be dangerous in a high wind event.

– What can blow away? In winds of up to 100 mph anything that can blow away will blow away. Even livestock/horse trailers! Ours are filled with straw, which helps weigh them down, but there have been times the tractors were used to help anchor them down. A reality is those trailers can be blown over fairly easily with wind like they are now having. We have also had portions of haystacks blow down, various trash cans, and basically anything that isn’t weighted down or tied down blow away (eventually recovered at a fenceline). This can be a very dangerous situation for human and/or animal.

– Trees. Cottonwood trees grow well in their area, they offer shade, and can get very large. Several years ago, my parents decided to cut down the ones near the house as it posed a huge concern that they could blow over in a high wind event and destroy the house and anyone in the house. Trees near any structure in a high wind event should be monitored, as they pose a serious concern.

– Transportation. If the amount of snow comes that they are predicting, transportation will become very difficult if nonexistent for a couple of days. Growing up in the mountains you learn how to drive in bad weather at high altitudes and to appreciate a set of chains and an emergency winter kit (i.e. water, blankets, snacks, clothes, etc.) for your vehicle. You also know what it means to stay home if the weather gets too bad (I mean that is where the Donner Party passed through!). You also make the most of your shopping trips, stocking up on plenty of food and water in case you aren’t able to get out for several days.

– Loss of power. As I mentioned, it is not uncommon for my folks to loose power in a severe storm. However, this presents some real challenges. Luckily in our area wood burning stoves are the norm, so heat is provided. Everyone has a generator to rotate between freezers and refrigerators. And it is kind of like camping – salami, cheese, crackers, and a cold beverage is on the menu!

winter storm
Winter weather isn’t new for ranchers in Northern California, you just do the best you can for your animals and wait for it to pass.

This storm will not be a walk in the park, but by preparing now it will make things easier as the storm continues to pound the area with wind, rain, and snow. While this storm is daunting, the thought of moisture is exciting – as it is desperately needed.

I have blogged about cold weather animal care, preparing animals for severe weather, and preparing for a disaster.

What do you do to prepare for severe weather events?


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Give some thought to preparing for a disaster

The last 48 hours have certainly brought some interesting weather to Nebraska, and surrounding states. Parts of Colorado, Wyoming, and Western Nebraska had at least a foot of snow and blowing winds, there were reports of 15 tornadoes that touched down across Nebraska alone, and Eastern Nebraska had large amounts of rain in a relatively short amount of time (anywhere from two to five inches reported so far) with loss of power for many around the Omaha metro. While Mother Nature’s fury can leave behind a mess, take us by surprise, and can be devastating – you can be a little more prepared with advance planning. Read on to see what my sister, Kellie Chichester, University of Wyoming Extension Educator and I suggest.

Whether you have 1,000 head or 5 head of livestock, you should spend time thinking and preparing a disaster plan. A disaster plan is good for people with livestock, or people with companion animals, or people who just need to prepare their homes. A few minutes of thought couple pay large dividends in the future.

Many ranches and farms spend a lot of time working on business plans, mission statements, employee training, goals, and financial management, but how many spend time discussing a disaster plan? Nebraska, along with neighboring states suffered catastrophic events in 2013; flooding, fires, blizzards, and drought. We may be on track to see more natural disasters in 2014! A disaster plan may not have saved acres of corn or numbers of cattle, but it may help people move forward, and be ready if there is a next time.

A couple of cows wait out the storm in Laramie, WY. Hard to believe this was taken on May, 12, 2014!

A disaster plan may help protect property, facilities, animals, and people. A good starting point in developing a plan is developing an emergency contact list. Some emergency numbers that you may want to include would be: employees, neighbors, veterinarians – both local and state, extension service, trucking company, brand inspector, highway patrol, insurance agent, and a contact person outside of the disaster area. It seems that we all know these numbers off of the top of our heads, but those stored in a cell phone may not be accessible; and in a high stress event, you may not be able to recall these numbers from memory. Also, think through where your livestock will go if they need to leave your premise; possible locations may include the local salebarn, the vet, or the neighbor’s place. What happens if your animals get out of the existing pens? Who will help gather and retrieve them? You also need to think about what happens in the case of serious injury or death. Will your vet be available to help may a quick diagnosis or aid in putting the animal down if needed? How will the animals be disposed of, who will do it?

You should also have access to a camera and try to document all of the damage to livestock, structures, property, vehicles, etc. During the clean-up process this important step may be forgotten and you may need those photos later.

rain gauge
Large amounts of rain came down quickly in Lincoln, NE.

A livestock emergency readiness checklist may be a useful tool to develop. Some things to consider may be a backup source of power, sufficient fuel supplies – for a generator, equipment, and vehicles, fire extinguishers, livestock water and feed (enough for two to three days), on-farm veterinary aid, and access to livestock records, land/vehicle titles, and/or insurance policies – if needed. Often times, disasters are not covered by insurance companies, unless specifically listed in the policy. This may be a good time to review your policy.

A ranch or farm map may be of benefit to first responders and neighbors. This can be a basic outline of facilities with shop or barn names. Additionally, you may want to include bodies of running water (creeks, streams, rivers, etc.), fence lines, and power lines. If you need to dispatch help and those responding do not know where the calving barn is, it will slow response times. On the map you should also include the storage locations of herbicides, pesticides, or fuel. The location of these may dictate how an emergency is responded to and with what equipment.

Once your disaster preparedness plan is in place, communication is key! It should be shared with your family, employees, and others you think may be involved if a crisis strikes. While many of these things seem simple, they can be things that are overlooked in times of high stress. Additionally, having these materials in a location where others will know where to find them enables them to carry out your wishes if you are unable to be present. You should review this plan annually to ensure the information is current and relevant.

A view from my office, no there isn’t supposed to be a body of water in the background…

Some information that may be helpful in developing a disaster plan can be found at these links or by contacting the Nebraska EDEN (Extension Disaster Education Network) representative.;;;

Do you have a disaster plan in place for your animals, family, or personal property?