That day in early June 1995 is seared into Stacy McCasland’s brain like a fiery brand. That’s the day he and his dad, Don, stood amidst the wreckage of what was once their family-owned feedyard after one of the strongest tornadoes in Texas Panhandle history passed through.

All the employees were safe. When all the cattle were accounted for, however, the feedyard west of Wheeler, TX, lost several hundred head, either killed outright or euthanized later because of serious injury. A major portion of the feedyard was left a mangled mess, including the feedmill.

The first thing the feedyard crew did after gathering the cattle was to start patching water lines and cobbling together enough of a system to keep fresh water in front of the remaining cattle. With the mill destroyed, McCasland says they’d have never gotten through the disaster without several neighboring feedyards running their mills overtime and hauling feed to the surviving cattle.

The tornado that hit Wheeler Feedyard was the sixth in a series of seven tornadoes spawned by a violent storm. In fact, says Todd Lindley, science and operations officer at the Amarillo office of the National Weather Service, it was the largest outbreak of tornadoes on record in the Texas Panhandle at the time and the last violent tornadoes to hit the area. Rated F4, the tornado that leveled Wheeler Feedyard cut a path 700 yards wide and 29 miles long.

The McCaslands rebuilt the feedyard to its present 32,000-head capacity and put in a new mill built specifically to better withstand a tornado. However, Stacy says, “I just don’t see how you prepare for that kind of disaster.”

The answer is you can’t, other than having underground tornado shelters – or “fraidy holes” as the locals call them – installed around the operation, and then continually reminding employees of their locations.

But that doesn’t mean Wheeler Feedyard isn’t prepared for other types of natural or manmade problems. Disaster planning and emergency management are a part of the ongoing beef quality assurance (BQA) training the feedyard provides for its employees. And the feedyard has sufficient generator capacity to keep both the mill running and the water flowing should they lose electricity for an extended period.

All of which makes perfect sense. Oddly enough, however, those efforts put Wheeler Feedyard in the minority when it comes to emergency preparedness and biosecurity planning.