Creating an Emergency Manual for Your Rabbitry

As I write there is a wildfire raging less than 20 miles away from home with a current 0% containment. It has exhibited extreme fire behavior and consumed more than 4500 acres of land in just over 24 hours. Our friends who live closer to the fire area are on pre-evacuation and, while I really suspect we will not see any danger at our home, we are carefully considering what measures we will take if we need to evacuate the area ourselves.

Too many times I prefer to sit in la-la land, assuming the best of everyone and believing that nothing out of the ordinary will ever happen. However, as so many of us know, this is simply not the reality. Life is unexpected because, well, life is unexpected!

Not long ago a magician made news when the USDA forced him to submit an emergency plan for the rabbit he used to pull out of his hat while performing. The rule was from the agency’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS):

“APHIS published a final rule requiring all dealers, exhibitors, intermediate handlers, carriers, research facilities and other entities regulated by the Agency under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to take additional steps to be better prepared for potential disaster situations.  They are required to develop a plan for how they are going to respond to and recover from emergencies most likely to happen to their facility, as well as train their employees on those plans.”

Admittedly, this seems like overkill in the case of a magician and his single rabbit, but the reality is it’s good business and solid animal husbandry. Many of us depend on these animals to provide for our family’s protein. They are defenseless without daily care taking – and if we want to be ethical (who doesn’t?!) we really must give some thought to how we could best care for these animals should the worst occur.

A rabbitry management book is a useful tool in case of emergency, someone taking over the care of your rabbitry while you vacation, or to produce as proof that you really are doing your best to provide the very best care possible for the animals under your management.   The USDA actually outlines what your rabbitry risk management manual should include. (These guidelines generated a 34-page report for Marty the Magician and his bunny that is really worth the read.) Your emergency plan should:

  • Identify types of emergencies seen frequently in your region
  • Identify emergencies that could occur at your particular type of facility
  • Identify specific tasks that facility staff will undertake in an emergency situation
  • Establish a clear chain of command for all employees to follow
  • Identify materials and resources that are available to your facility and elsewhere, and
  • Ensure all pertinent employees are trained on this plan

The guidelines further explain that “the terms ’emergency’ and ‘disaster’ are not limited to major natural disasters, such as hurricanes, and should include consideration of localized events such as a fire, severe weather, or any other unexpected situation that interrupts normal animal care activities.”

Truthfully, while the bureaucracy is intimidating (and overkill), it’s also really useful to take a look at these guidelines to see where the holes may be in your own rabbitry emergency response manual. I’ve had many of these ideas floating around in my head off and on, but I’ve never committed them to paper and communicated with my family about the plan for the rabbits in case of emergency.

While the guidelines consider many different types of emergencies such as structural fire, electrical outages, disruption in feed or water supply, road closures, intentional attack on facility/personnel, unexpected change in ownership (or death of owner), HVAC malfunctions, animal escape, animal disease outbreak, as well as other natural disaster scenarios. Specifically, for evacuation, the APHIS guidelines point out the need for a plan for:

  • Transportation vehicles and equipment/caging. Do you have carriers for every animal you have on site? Once filled, do you have a vehicle that can fit and transport all of those carriers to safety?
  • Alternate location for housing animals. Where are you going to take your furry friends where they will be welcome? Most Red Cross shelters are open to humans, not animals!
  • Husbandry and care needs for the animals during transport and once animals are relocated. Do you need nest boxes? Do your carriers each have a water and food bottle? Do you have enough food on hand to send it with the animals and expect it to last until the emergency is resolved? Are there significant temperature or climate differences between your home and the relation spot that need to be considered?
  • Animal Identification. Are all your animals tattooed in a timely manner all the time? Do you have a list of which tattoo number belongs to whom out of the danger of the disaster?
  • Records Transfer. Do you have electronic back ups of your pedigree programs? Breeding records? How about a paper copy of registrations and Grand Champion certificates, as well as Bills of Sale?  Are these stored in a location that would be unaffected by your disaster?

A few other thoughts that have crossed my mind as we consider the logistics of possibly moving our animals:

  • Actually practice the plan. Nothing on paper is committed to memory unless it is practiced.
  • In an emergency situation, a bale of hay can go a long way for a lot of rabbits! Having a bale on hand at all times provides a distinct level of comfort.
  • Identify — in advance — which animals can be quickly culled and which are essential for the survival of the breeding program. Write it down and consider identifying their cages with a mark so anyone helping with the evacuation will know where to focus their energies.
  • What is available for nursing mamas and their babies for transport? Possibly laundry baskets, banana boxes, or larger pet carriers are a possibility.
  • How many bags of feed do you use a week/month? Do you have a 30 day supply as a general practice?
  • Consider the ethics of releasing domesticated animals to fend for themselves in an emergency. Obviously, the priority in any situation must be the humans… but to expect natural survival instincts to kick in for a rabbit that has been bred to be dependent upon humans for decades is irrational. Their care must be a priority in the same way a human baby should be protected in a disaster.
  • Do you have a “go bag” of  rabbit first aid packed with items like gauze, Neosporin, critical care, electrolytes, nail clippers, Vetricyn, etc. Where is your tattoo kit?
  • Where is your plan kept? Is is handy where you can grab it and skim if your mind is stressed and you’re worried about other things? Could you hand your plan to a helper and feel confident they would understand your methods and wishes from what’s written down?
  • What about copies? I have my pedigree program on my computer – but if my computer is damaged I’m in trouble! I also have a notebook binder with rabbitry information. This needs to be copied and sent to a safe place completely separate from my zip code in case the binder burns or is damaged through water or wind attacks.

I hope this post isn’t the world’s biggest downer! I’m a big believer that if you see 10 problems coming down the road at you, 9 will fall into the ditch before they ever meet you. BUT — there’s always that one… and Murphy’s Law!

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2 thoughts on “Creating an Emergency Manual for Your Rabbitry

  1. Donna Richardson May 22, 2014 at 9:17 am Reply

    Hello JJ – I love reading your blogs and Jacob and Jessica always go back to them. If it does come to having to evecuate please know that you have many 4H families out here that will jump in and help any way we can. We are with the Williams Mountaineers and have 2 of your Silver Fox’s from last fair, but I’m with a quick phone call I can gather assistance whether it be additional cages, trucks, etc. Just ask! (


    • madhatrabbits May 22, 2014 at 9:37 am Reply

      You’re amazing! Thank you! You can bet well ask for help if we need it. Right now the fire only grew 200 acres overnight which is really promising!


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