They’re a badly needed resource that hopefully will never be needed.
A fleet of five livestock emergency handling equipment trailers went on display in Ponoka on Friday. Designed for deployment in the event of an incident involving farm animals — such as a cattle liner collision — the trailers contain equipment like panelling for temporary pens, feed, shavings for traction, halters, paddles, pitchforks, shovels and emergency lighting.
They’ll be stationed at fire departments in the M.D. of Willowcreek, Cypress County, Westlock County and Vermilion River County, with the fifth trailer to be used across the province by the Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Funded through Growing Forward — a program involving the federal, provincial and territorial governments that pursues agricultural initiatives — the livestock handling trailers were inspired by similar units already stationed in Red Deer County and Ponoka.
Red Deer County developed the first four years ago, earning the county an Innovation Award from Alberta Farm Animal Care. Ponoka’s trailer went into service a year ago, and provided the blueprint for the newest trailers.
“All these five trailers were kind of designed according to the one in Ponoka,” confirmed Heini Hehli, a Rimbey-area dairy producer and the chair of Alberta Farm Animal Care.
He stressed the importance of having this type of resource, especially when animals are loose around traffic.
“In an emergency, what we need to do is contain cattle,” said Hehli, adding that the trailers are equipped to deal with livestock ranging from horses to poultry.
“It’s amazing what’s in there.”
Ponoka fire Chief Ted Dillon said preparation is important for his area, given the large volumes of livestock that moves to auction there and is used at the Ponoka Stampede.
But transportation mishaps aren’t the only situations requiring an emergency response, pointed out Hehli. He listed fires and floods as among the other dangers.
“We had a barn crash a year and a half ago on the farm here, and basically what we needed was panels to confine the animals.”
He hopes the five trailers will be just a start, with other jurisdictions already requesting their own units.
“We know there’s a want for another five trailers from different (fire) departments.”
The Alberta Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Strategy Steering Committee, which represents various industry groups and was a driving force behind the livestock handling trailer initiative, wants to document the use and effectiveness of the units. That would help build the case for more, said Hehli, who admits to being torn in this regard.
“We want those trailers to be used to show what they can do — and yet we don’t want any accidents.”
Dillon said his department’s trailer, which is pulled behind emergency vehicles, has yet to be pressed into service.
“I look at it like insurance,” he said. “It’s there if you need it.”
He added that the unit remains a work in progress, with additions and improvements being implemented on an ongoing basis.
“It’s a project that’s never complete. We’ve added a couple new pieces of equipment: a metal-cutting Skil saw and some shears this year.”
Meanwhile, a related training course has also been developed for emergency services personnel and others who might have to handle livestock in a crisis situation. It will be delivered by Lakeland College at its Emergency Training Centre at Vermilion.
Hehli said priority will initially be given to the firefighters and others who work with the first trailers.
“The knowledge is the biggest thing,” he said of the training.
“Livestock in distress will usually behave different than under normal circumstances. To know the difference is huge.”