Protecting livestock during a wildfire

Cattle near Pine Creek Fire
Cattle near Pine Creek Fire
Cattle near the Pine Creek Fire, Gallatin NF in Montana, Photo credit: Karen Tuscano

The protection of people and structures during a wildfire is usually the primary focus of planning for fires as well as during the suppression of the fire itself. But livestock producers also need to protect their investments — their cattle, horses, or sheep. Planning and preparation can prevent the loss of top quality stud animals or the entire herd.

Australian Pump Industries has provided some guidelines that could reduce the losses during a fire. It includes some Aussie terminology, but most of us will be able to translate. Here is an excerpt:


Safe havens need to be marked out for the livestock to escape to, in the event of a fire. The area needs to be centrally located, easy to access and strategically placed, not adjoining timbered or brush area.

There are a few factors to be considered when planning the safe haven.

Grass type

A paddock containing green summer crops will offer good protection, as it will not burn as readily as a paddock that has dry long grass. The DPI (NSW Department of Primary Industries) recommends a paddock that has been systematically grazed in spring and early summer to reduce dry feed.

Sufficient drinking water

Animals are susceptible to radiant heat, stress and dehydration during fires. The paddock should have a source of sufficient drinking water such as a dam or a stream to enable stock to remain in the area during periods of high to extreme temperatures.

Adequate amount of feed

Livestock may need to stay in the paddock for an extended period of time, which would require a sufficient supply of feed to avoid sickness and maintain health levels.

Fire break

The paddock needs to have at least a 20m wide cleared or ploughed perimeter, which is completely clear of any unnecessary combustible material such as leaves, bark or branches.

Speed is of the essence

A plan needs to be in place in advance to ensure the livestock can be moved quickly to the safe area.

Sufficient fire fighting equipment

Spot fires should be put out immediately and danger areas wetted down to prevent the fire from spreading further. A trailer or ute mounted fire pump and tank will provide a mobile option. The pump should also be capable of delivering sufficient water.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

4 thoughts on “Protecting livestock during a wildfire”

    1. @jmg
      yeah, and if your saddle is the 55-pound cowboy variety, you might want to look into other options. I’ve been riding a 1906 McClellan since about 1992 or so.

      All seriousness aside, I’ve lived with horsies for nearly 50 years, and if I lived in SoCal or some other place where evacuating stock was critical, I’d sure as **** have a plan in place. Amazing how many people don’t. In Maclean’s forthcoming book on the Esperanza Fire there’s a short scene about some person driving down the road with a horse on a halter and lead, and it kinda drives the point home: HAVE A PLAN for your stock in a fire-prone area.


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