Hurricane Florence: Impact on Farmers, Animals and Water Quality

When any natural disaster occurs, the loss of life is almost always a threat and often, inevitable. Mother nature enforcers her will, inflicting damage and death on anything in her path. The tragedies that arise from natural disasters are significant, widespread, and felt for years.

At least 37 people have been killed by Hurricane Florence and countless homes have been destroyed – and flooding may not have reached its peak. The loss of human life due to Florence is harrowing and we feel for the families affected by this heartbreaking event.

Other lives are also affected during natural disasters. From pets, to wildlife to livestock, animals face the threat of death just as humans do. We try to do what we can to protect these animals, but the reality is we cannot save them all, and decisions are made by people and families each and every time a disaster is about to occur. Not every pet can fit into the family car in an evacuation; biologists cannot save every endangered animal or migratory bird passing through; and livestock producers cannot relocate every animal on their farm.

During a natural disaster, livestock producers face a lose-lose battle when it comes to their operations and their animals. In many cases, farmers are able to move their animals to safer locations and protect both the livestock and their livelihood. For some, it is not logistically feasible, and the resources required to move a mass number of animals in a short amount of time is not available to every farmer. Poultry are especially sensitive to stress and their environment, so moving large numbers of them in and of itself is a huge risk.

Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina last Friday, and as with previous hurricanes such as Matthew (2016) and Floyd (1999), large numbers of animals were put in harms way with little to do but wait it out and hope for the best.

For those forced to keep their animals in place, persistent problems such as providing feed, electricity and clean water to the production barns is often subject to the damage created by the hurricane. Intense flooding and wind can close roadways and cause power loss, preventing farmers from being able to effectively care for the animals in the hours and days following the disaster.

On top of figuring out how to provide animal safety, manure pits can overflow due to flooding, creating water toxicity that mixes into streams and other water sources around the affected areas. The outcomes of this will not be known for several weeks or months following, but certainly raises concerns as water toxicity caused by previous hurricanes have led to increased deaths in fish and contamination of human drinking water. Many of the farms themselves will likely face challenges of polluted water in their wells, ponds, and ground water. Contaminants such as E. Coli, salmonella, and giardia all pose significant threats to the people and animals in the surrounding areas.

Reports from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture state that 3.4 million chickens and turkeys have been killed, along with 5,500 hogs. These are large numbers. However, to put it in perspective, North Carolina raises around 819 million chickens, 34 million turkeys, and 9 million hogs each year. So, while the loss can seem huge, the vast majority of these animals do survive. Farmers work tirelessly to prevent animal loss. “Our farmers and others in the pork industry are working together to take precautions that will protect our farms, our animals and our environment,” said North Carolina Pork Council’s Brandon Warren. “The preparations for a hurricane began long before the past few hours or days. Our farmers take hurricane threats extremely seriously.”

If you are interested in helping victims of Hurricane Florence, here are some options for you to donate or volunteer.