We have all driven past the scene of, or been directly involved in, a highway accident with an overturned truck/trailer full of cattle. It is an unnerving and panic inducing moment. One’s first, primal instinct is to assist the individuals and cattle affected. The desire to assist is a normal and predicable feeling but there are some disaster scene best practices that should be followed for the safety of people and cattle alike. This article will communicate do’s and don’ts when assisting with a cattle highway emergency. This article is based upon the first-hand experience of the authors and their hours of professional training in large animal emergency rescue.
The prioritization at large animal emergencies is as follows; human safety, animal safety, and then property. Let human trained first responders attend to the medical needs of injured people first. Think human safety over animal rescue.
Introduce yourself and tell incident commander who you are and what you can offer; I am a rancher, I have a trailer and portable panels that we can use, I know of somewhere to take extracted cattle, I have horses and can round up loose cattle, I know of the closest veterinarian, I know the county extension agent.
Containment, containment, containment. Work with other first responders on a plan for containment for the surviving cattle by securing portable panels, fencing wire, empty trailers, portable loading chute or horseback riders. Keep it simple - cut obstacles out of the way, build a ramp, make a path or a trail for cattle to move towards the containment area. Let animals self-rescue if possible. Remember, containment over capture. Securing feed such as a bale of hay can be used to entice animals away from the immediate scene and hold them a safe distance away if they have escaped on their own. The easiest and most effective way to temporarily restraining large animals and keeping them calm is with FOOD!
Well-intended individuals who are not qualified or formally trained in livestock accident response will want to be involved. Examples of tasks for these individuals (depending on ability) are: carrying portable panels, affixing tarps and barriers, assisting with documentation at the scene, counting livestock, keeping gates closed, and calling your network of friends for resources (lighting for nighttime rescues, horseback riders, empty trailers, containment fencing, bales of hay, people who can dispose of dead livestock).
At some point, someone will likely have to enter the overturned truck to move cattle out/around obstacles and into awaiting trailers via portable panels. If you volunteer for that task based upon your cattle knowledge, protect your head with a helmet. Injured and fearful cattle can flail, kick, charge or slide on slick surfaces causing injury to people. Do not become part of the disaster by becoming injured yourself. Use the accompanying list of do’s and don’ts to guide your activities as well as to educate others.
When it is all over, you have returned home and your nerves have calmed, seek training in large animal emergency rescue so that you can become a first point of contact in your community the next time an overturned cattle truck emergency occurs. Tell your local sheriff, police, fire and rescue, county extension agent, veterinarian, and county emergency director that you have completed training in animal rescue. Remind them again every six months as there is personnel turnover in those positions. It only takes one cattle emergency rescue experience to see the difference that people trained in animal emergency rescues can make in the outcomes for the cattle and their owners. For training opportunities visit Large Animal Rescue Training | Large Animal Rescue Operations (LARO) (asartraining.com)