What happens to livestock when a ranch is ordered to be evacuated due to a fire?

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Many ranchers were left behind to tend to cattle as neighbors fled the wildfires that ravaged Alberta, others could only open corral gates and hope their abandoned cows made their way to safety. It has been found.Ann Sophie Thill/AFP/Getty Images

John Doherty owns and operates a mixed farm in west-central Alberta with his family. Cows, chickens, chickens, turkeys and pigs call his property home. Raised on a farm himself, Mr. Doherty has always farmed and raised animals throughout his life.

So when his farm recently came under evacuation orders from wildfires, forcing residents to pack a bag and leave because of the fire hazard, Mr. Doherty turned to Yellowhead to protect his animals. Decided to stay back in the county.

“Just the thought of trying to move all of our animals was overwhelming,” he said. Thankfully, the wildfire did not reach his farm, and the evacuation order was lifted after a few days.

Provincial wildfire services say residents should evacuate immediately when their assistance may be needed for their own safety and the safety of emergency personnel. However, farmers and ranchers face an obvious problem: hundreds of animals don’t fit into the catch bag.

So farmers and ranchers end up with a choice: release the animals and hope the evacuation doesn’t last long. Stay and protect your livestock, and hope they can handle the risks. Or try moving your animals to one of the many farms that have volunteered to help with temporary boarding.

In Mr Doherty’s case, he said relocating the animals would be costly. Unlike the neighboring province of British Columbia, the Alberta government does not provide compensation for livestock displacement during wildfire evacuation orders.

Nevertheless, the two provinces have rallied in support of the agricultural community, offering fodder, livestock shelter and shelter to migrants and their animals. Farmers and ranchers have posted hundreds of evacuee resource offers on social media, agricultural societies have opened their doors and neighbors have extended a helping hand.

Before authorities issued an evacuation order from his property, Mr Doherty hosted an evacuation and animals on his farm. Right next door, three of his neighbors spent several days using their stock trailers to move animals away from the fire hazard.

Brody Hogan, a fifth-generation rancher and chair of Alberta Beef Producers, a nonprofit advocacy organization, said offering assistance to other farms and ranches is an unspoken rule in the industry.

“If someone needs a lending hand or some help, there are tons of people there for them,” Mr. Hogan said.

To help evacuees find these resources, ABP created a map at the start of the wildfire season so that the agricultural community could more easily organize itself.

Blue points on the map show livestock shelter offerings from approximately 40 Albertan agricultural societies and rodeo associations. Offers include contact information, an address and a description. Orange points indicate agricultural societies that need donations, such as bales of hay for culled animals. The map is maintained by ABP, which receives offers and requests via email.

The number of current farm and ranch removals in Alberta is uncertain. But as of Thursday in B.C., there are about 130 agricultural operations with livestock under evacuation orders and about 90 operations under evacuation alerts, according to B.C.’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

Mr. Hogan said he had heard of cattle deaths this season, but did not know the exact number.

“We realized this was going to be an emergency,” he said, explaining why ABP created the map this year. “It’s amazing how many people step in without being asked.”

Once alerted or on order, farmers and ranchers need to think fast. They need to consider how many trailers the cattle need, in addition to finding a large enough area to move the cattle.

And with calving season, some operations may not be able to make room, Mr. Hogan said. He added that evacuation orders could arrive suddenly, so logistical problems would certainly arise. Animal evacuation may take up to one day to complete.

“You don’t just load up a few hundred animals in a few minutes. Some of these projects take a lot of time and many hours and manpower to do.”

Human safety comes first, he said, “but as ranchers, as producers, we always make sure we do everything physically possible to protect and care for the animals. Is.”

Despite droughts and wildfires appearing in Alberta most years, Mr. Hogan said this year’s fires are different because of how widespread and early they are: “It’s a huge concern.”

To him, the risk of forest fires is personal. In the past, a forest fire burned part of his ranch.

“The hardest thing about the experience was the resulting landscape and infrastructure,” he said. He expressed concern about the long-term impact of wildfires on the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers, as food crops grow in the spring and livestock turn to grass.

However, he said it was too early to tell what the impact would be this year.

The BC government has developed emergency management resources for the agriculture industry, including information How to Plan Livestock Migration. The government also has a Premises ID program, which notifies producers of livestock emergencies.

The plan encourages farmers to be as prepared as possible for emergencies, including reaching out to neighbors ahead of an emergency to discuss shelter opportunities.

Sheena Beckert, a central BC farmer, is one of many people providing space for evacuees and their animals.

Although no one has yet taken up his offer, he said helping is out of the question.

If her farm is ever placed under an evacuation order, she knows people from across BC and Alberta will come to her aid.

“We have the ability to help,” he said. “We do what we can.”

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