GFB News Magazine

First responders get training for livestock highway incidents

Posted on May 23, 2019 12:00 AM

By Jay Stone

Since May 17, 2018, there have been at least four accidents involving tractor-trailers hauling cattle in metro Atlanta as well as an incident on I-16. With the number of cattle haulers moving  through Georgia, it’s a fairly safe assumption there will be more.

The Bovine Emergency Response Plan (BERP) training is designed to give first responders – law enforcement, fire and rescue personnel and highway emergency response teams – a framework of knowledge to help manage the incidents when they occur.

The installment held at Henry County Extension in McDonough drew approximately 40 first responders, about three-fourths of whom had worked situations involving cattle. Fewer than five indicated they had experience or training to handle cattle.

“You just want to give people a little bit of background of experience, so they can prevent themselves from getting hurt and have a good outcome from a consumer perception standpoint,” said UGA Extention Animal & Dairy Science Public Service Assistant Jason Duggin.

Approximately 125 first responders from around Georgia received BERP training the week of April 8-12. The one-day sessions included planning tips, a survey on livestock behavior (particularly cattle), hazards involved with transporting livestock, biosecurity concerns, animal care and handling and euthanasia.

Extension specialists from North Dakota State University, West Virginia University, Ohio State University, Iowa State University and the Georgia Department of Agriculture Animal Industry Division led the training, which was sponsored in part by Georgia Farm Bureau and developed through funding from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

The key messages were to emphasize human life over animal welfare and to have an established response plan and team trained to execute it.

“The accident scene is not the place to build your team,” said Jerry Yates of West Virginia University Extension. “You never know what you’re rolling up on. Be prepared for anything.”

The plan should include a contact sheet of key personnel, including state and local livestock veterinarians, local Extension agents, livestock transporters, livestock producers who can help with handling the animals, holding facilities, portable containment equipment, someone trained in proper euthanasia techniques and animal disposal facilities.

The trainers emphasized using calming techniques. First responders arriving at the scene should be aware that the animals are likely to be highly stressed and that some normal tactics – like use of lights and sirens or constantly squawking radio equipment, even reflective surfaces on safety equipment – can further agitate the animals. Verbal interactions with cattle should also be done in a calm, soothing voice.

First responders should assess the scene and make sure a containment system is in place before beginning to free animals from the trailer to avoid releasing additional animals onto the roadway.

Yates led participants on a tour of the inside of a double-decked livestock trailer to give them a sense of the situation the animals might experience.

Dr. Jan Shearer of Iowa State University presented information about proper euthanasia, noting that while some animals may have to be put down in highway accident situations, there is a difference between euthanizing them and simply killing them. Euthanasia, a Greek term meaning “good death,” is where the death of the animal is accomplished while avoiding pain and distress in the animal. Shearer covered some situations when euthanasia is called for, such as when the animals have irreparable fractures to their legs, hips or spine.

“The best we can, we want to try to avoid causing a slow and miserable death,” Shearer said.

Shearer demonstrated use of a penetrating captive bolt and allowed participants hands-on practice with it. He showed them how to mark the animal to determine the best location to deploy the bolt.

Once the accident scene has been cleared, the trainers recommended holding a debriefing session to help responders deal with the mental stress that can come with working the scene.

To arrange for similar training using the BERP model, contact Duggin at, UGA Tifton Diagnostic Lab Veterinarian Dr. Lee Jones at or Courtney Wilson with the Georgia Department of Agriculture at