Cattle veterinarians encounter a wide range of issues and circumstances in their day-to-day practice, but most activities are planned and procedures are performed in the controlled setting of a squeeze chute, stall or AI barn. Occasionally though, veterinarians will find themselves in emergency situations, thinking and acting on the fly amid chaotic and potentially dangerous conditions.

In the February issue of Bovine Veterinarian, we include an account of the tragic tornados that struck Pilger, Neb., on June 16, 2014, causing extensive damage to two feedlots near town. Dr. David Gnad, who provides veterinary services for those two feedlots, describes the aftermath and the challenges he and the feedlot crews faced in trying to contain animals, treat those that could be treated and euthanize those beyond treatment.

While the chance of a tornado striking a particular feedlot or dairy is unlikely, many of our large cattle operations are in storm-prone areas, so the risk is real. Veterinarians also sometimes face other types of emergencies including devastating snow storms, severe heat waves, highway accidents involving cattle transporters and, possibly, outbreaks of infectious disease.

Every emergency presents a unique set of circumstances, but having some kind of emergency-response plan and appropriate training can help veterinarians and others gain control of the situation and minimize animal suffering, economic losses and human injury. In many cases, emergency situations will require euthanasia of animals, a difficult but necessary task for veterinarians who have dedicated their careers to animal care. Proper training and contingency planning can help ensure humane euthanasia and safety for the veterinarian and bystanders.

In our March/April 2014 issue, we featured an article about the Bovine Emergency Response Plan, a planning and training program developed by a group of veterinarians and Extension specialists from several universities. The program focuses on highway accidents involving cattle transporters, which often result in injured animals along with possible human injuries, and cattle loose along the roadway creating additional safety hazards. In addition to emergency-response training, the program emphasizes planning and organization at the local level involving first responders, producers and veterinarians. With a plan in place before such an accident occurs, a local dispatcher will know to contact a designated veterinarian along with fire and law-enforcement authorities, and have contact information for local producers who can supply equipment to contain and transport cattle to temporary housing facilities.

Engaging in such training and planning could prove invaluable for veterinarians in the event they face a highway wreck or other cattle emergency in their local area.

Veterinarians and veterinary technicians also have an opportunity to join the front-line battle during an outbreak of FMD or other animal-health emergencies by joining the National Animal Health Emergency Response Corps (NAHERC). The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) formed NAHERC in 2001 and needs more members. Corps members can include veterinarians, animal-health technicians, veterinary technicians and qualified students. In an emergency, APHIS would call up NAHERC members for paid tours of duty generally lasting 21 to 30 days. NAHERC members have the right to refuse assignments but during deployment become temporary APHIS employees, with travel, lodging, overtime and workers’ compensation provided. Veterinarians can serve multiple tours up to a full year, and technicians can serve up to 221 days per year.

Read more in the February digital edition of Bovine Veterinarian.