The Ice Storm Cometh

Wendy Swackhamer has 17 horses and ponies, a Holstein heifer, a couple of sheep and some chickens. For her and many others, the 2013 ice storm meant slippery footing for her animals and limited access to water.
Wendy considers herself lucky. In terms of the animals themselves being in distress, they were generally fine. Their farm has a fresh water creek and they bucketed water – five to ten gallons per horse - morning and night. “We’ve done that before when the pipes froze one year. We fared great.” The animals made pathways; they adapted. They are normally fed round bales but they gave them square bales near their shelters, more for safety reasons than anything – she didn’t want them to feel they needed to venture out to their hay.
Power was completely out for six days. Wendy had a generator to run the fridge and freezer, not enough power to run the geothermal but they had a woodstove in one part of the house. The house was three degrees by the day the power came back on. That’s why she didn’t mind hanging out at the Hillsburgh Fire Hall, leaving her husband and kids at home.
While the new fire hall wasn’t set up as a warming center for horses, people were coming for water for their livestock and having a shower while they were there. “These facilities weren’t available in the old fire hall,” said Wendy. “Nothing else was needed, thank goodness. We could have accommodated anyone who wanted to cook a meal, watch a movie and have a cup of coffee.”
One couple from Orangeville borrowed a clear water tank, filled it at the fire hall and delivered water to different farms for those who couldn’t transport the water themselves. Finding those most in need was mostly done through word of mouth, said Wendy.
Even when the power came back on, the pipes were frozen so the adventure didn’t end there. From the stories she was hearing, anyone able to keep their horses out was okay. If they stayed out, they were able to adapt. Those who kept their horses in had to keep them in for an extended period – the ground was slippery; the gates were frozen. Afterwards, horses were slipping and falling after being locked up for many days.
Wendy’s father was Fire Chief in early 90’s in Hillsburgh and a member of volunteer fire department for over ten years. In her father’s boot steps she now runs a unique business called Wellington County Large Animal Emergency Rescue (WCLAER). As one of only about ten people in Canada with her advanced level of training, Wendy is invited to attend as incident command on an emergency scene. She also provides training to emergency first responders and will be part of a team working with Equine Guelph to deliver a large animal rescue certification course in mid-September in Loretto, hosted in part with Adjala-Tosoronto Emergency Services.
What would she tell people to do to prepare for the next weather emergency?
Ice the same as heavy snow – the same potential to lose power and limiting livestock access to outdoors. It’s a matter of keeping the farm functioning, keeping snow cleared away from fences so that livestock can’t wander over them and keeping laneways clear in case of an emergency. She suggests owning a generator powerful enough to do the job.
Hay is what keeps a horse warm. Make sure you have adequate supply of feed, especially hay. Water is difficult to store but consider where you will get it when the power is down? You may need friends or neighbours who can feed your horses if you can’t make it home, someone who knows the layout of your barn so they can at least give hay and water.
Most emergencies involve fire or weather, but there are also personal safety considerations, such as what to do if someone was hurt on the farm? What’s your fire number? Who’s calling 911? Some first aid training doesn’t hurt.
Where can people turn for help if they have livestock? Currently there aren’t any official resources in place but Wendy is working to get the Town of Erin to set up a plan to deal with animals large and small.
“Say someone’s barn collapsed leaving 20 horses homeless, where would they go? We’ve got to find those people who would be willing to help.” An official plan would include setting up a network of resources, including people to trailer livestock, places for animals to go, access to penning for containment, large animal veterinarians, and trained or knowledgeable emergency responders.
For your own farm, “Don’t be afraid to ask, I’d be happy to come out and give some pointers,” offered Wendy. She can be reached at 519-830-2484 or
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