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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Preparing animals for bad weather

Several states in the Midwest are getting ready to experience some crazy weather today.

I am a transplant to tornado country, and I don’t think I will ever get used to the danger associated with it. I can count on just a few fingers the number of times meteorologists have provided weather warnings days before the storm, and this is one of those cases.

weather map
The potential storm area.


While we can’t always prepare for natural disasters, there are times, like today, where we have a glimpse of what to expect. I want to visit with you on how to care for animals in severe weather.

Companion animals – 

– Often loud noises can scare our companion animals, and they may be more difficult to find in a time crunch if they are hiding under a bed, in a closet, or some other small space. Our companion animals can pick up on our moods and emotions, so do your best to remain calm. Your pets will probably exhibit signs of stress which may include vocalization, panting, crouching, or hiding. Be careful around pets as they may be more aggressive and inadvertently bite or scratch you in their distressed state.

– Try to have a plan if you need to evacuate or move to a safer structure. Assign the people in your home tasks. For example, one person would get the pet, another would get necessary supplies (i.e. leash, carrier, food, water, etc.), and a third would keep everyone moving in the right direction and on task.

– If you are  evacuating to a public shelter, you will need to check prior to the event to make sure your pets can come; there may be restrictions that you will need to abide by (i.e. leases, muzzles, cat carriers, current vaccination records, etc.).

– DO NOT leave your pets behind. They will not have a good chance of survival and being reunited with them after the event may not be successful.

– Have a plan in place for someone to take care for your pets if you are unable to do so or are out of town. This could be a neighbor, a friend or family member. Knowing that your pets are in good hands in a crisis situation is important and provides peace of mind.

– If your pets are outdoor animals, make sure they have a shelter to go to (i.e. shed, barn, or building). Hail can be very painful and possibly life threatening if not provided shelter. DO NOT leave them chained up, let them off the chain so they can have a chance to get to a safer location.

Here and here are some other tips for caring for your pets in bad weather!

My cat, Cali, was not a fan of waiting out the last tornado warnings in our closet.


Livestock animals

– Livestock animals are tuned in to picking up changes in barometric pressure. Have you ever seen a group of cattle huddled together or running for no reason? They are usually pretty savvy that atmospheric changes are happening and they are doing what their instincts tell them. If you work livestock when they are more high strung than normal because of weather changes, it is important to move slow and remain calm as the animals may not be acting like they normally do.

– Livestock animals should have some sort of weather protection. This may be a building or covered facility or it even may be a tree grove. It is important to note that animals should not be locked into a building that cannot withstand strong winds and/or damaging hail.

– Hail can be very dangerous for livestock. Look at what it does to structures and cars. It can leave big bruises and welts on livestock, and in some situations may be life threatening. It is important to make sure your livestock can get somewhere that protects them from hail. If your livestock have been in a hail storm and they are market ready, you will need to wait to harvest them as a bruised carcass will receive significant price reductions.

– Have a disaster plan in place in case the worse case scenario happens. The time spent working on it will pay dividends.

– If you have animals in a small pen, you may want to let them into a larger area so they can have a chance to survive if necessary. If this is not possible, you may consider taking them to a facility where they would be better protected or could have access to more room.

– If your animals need to be released for survival, it is important to ensure you have a way to identify them later. This may be brands, ear notches or tattoos, ear tags, or some other means of identification that is specific to you.

Here and here are some other tips for caring for your livestock animals in bad weather!

The tree line in this photo can offer great protection from the elements.

Remember, your life is irreplaceable – do not put yourself or your family at risk to save your animals!