When disaster strikes, farmers with livestock frequently scramble to find accommodations so their animals can be safely evacuated, often to nearby fairgrounds.
To help house farm animals displaced during wildfires, floods and other emergencies, a total of 280 portable livestock pens have been donated to seven fairgrounds around the state. The new pens were purchased jointly by the California Farm Bureau Federation's charitable foundation and the state Department of Food and Agriculture.
During a ribbon-cutting ceremony to formally dedicate the pens at the Yuba-Sutter Fairgrounds in Yuba City last week, CFBF President Jamie Johansson said farmers too often are reluctant to leave their ranches, even when evacuations are mandatory, due to concern for their animals and where to take them. The pens, he said, will make it easier for fairgrounds to fulfill their role as shelters during disasters.
"If you know that there's a facility you can immediately evacuate them to, I think it will lead to timelier evacuations and ultimately keep our farm families and our rural community safer," Johansson said.
Each of the seven fairgrounds received 40 of the 6-feet-by-6-feet pens, designed to house sheep, goats or swine. Manufactured by Plymouth Industries in Nebraska, the panels to create the pens can be stored on racks for easy loading and transport during emergencies.
Aside from Yuba City, fairgrounds in Anderson, Auburn, Lakeport, Merced, San Mateo and Ventura also received the pens.
"They can be utilized at a moment's notice and be transported to where there's greatest need," Johansson said, noting the pens have already been used this fall to help livestock during the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County.
"We also look forward to having them used for happier occasions, such as ongoing events at county fairgrounds around the state," he added.
The 74 fairgrounds in the state "serve in many capacities during a disaster," said Pat Conklin, president of the Western Fairs Association. The sites act as staging grounds for firefighters and are used to evacuate people and animals.
So far this year, California fairgrounds were responsible for housing 1,401 animals from areas affected by disasters, she said. In 2018, some 1,982 animals were evacuated to state fairgrounds for safety.
"Fairgrounds are called upon in a moment's notice to help people and animals, and often both," Conklin said. "We work together to assure the needs of those affected are met. We are able to do this as no others can. These panels will help the entire network of California fairgrounds serve and protect livestock."
Johansson said the idea for the pens grew out of CFBF's desire to "have a better presence in terms of organizing our farmers and ranchers throughout the state to meet the needs of certain communities in times of disaster." He said the organization also wanted to do something that would "benefit everyone in good times and in times of need."
After the Camp Fire ravaged part of rural California last year, CFBF's California Bountiful Foundation created a Farm and Rural Disaster Fund. Donations from 50 individuals and companies allowed the foundation to contribute $75,000 toward purchase of the pens. CDFA paid the balance of the $126,000 total cost.
CDFA Deputy Secretary Arturo Barajas, who was appointed to his position in June, called the partnership with Farm Bureau "an important kickoff for me to begin my role," adding that he wants to work on more "collaborative things like this."
Johansson said Farm Bureau hopes to build on the Farm and Rural Disaster Fund, continue the partnership with CDFA "and become more creative in how we streamline disaster relief efforts for California."
(Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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