Animal health in a drought
Note Number: AG1073
Published: December 2005
Updated: December 2008
Drought calls for hard economic decisions to be made, particularly on the fate of stock. Stock owners should obtain all available information to make the best decisions. Take action early to minimise the impacts.
The economic survival of the enterprise may be at risk and stock owners must make good decisions to meet their moral and legal obligations to the welfare of their stock and their land. There is an abundance of high quality information and expert advice available to stock owners affected by drought.
By getting early advice, understanding it, formulating plans and taking early action, the effects of drought will not compound into an economic, animal welfare and land care disaster. Stock owners must accept that in times of drought it is unavoidable that valuable stock may have to be sold at low prices, costly feed or agistment may have to be purchased and any weak animals will have to be humanely destroyed and disposed of in an environmentally safe manner. Be aware that stock surviving the drought in poor condition may succumb to the cold wet windy weather that usually ends the drought.
Stock weakened by drought face extra risks posed by:
- physical accidents;
- aberrant eating habits; and
- predisposition to infectious disease.
When stock are weak they are prone to physical accidents. Seek advice as to the construction of containment areas to ensure adequate space to move and to provide sufficient access to water and food. Fence off boggy dams or river banks so that stock don't get bogged, or move them to another paddock with accessible watering points. Ensure stock are transported for agistment or sale before they become too weak, and ensure transports have non-slip flooring and use correct loading densities. Extra feed is needed for pregnant stock to ensure a humane outcome for both them and their soon-to-be born offspring.
Drought affected stock can ingest large quantities of sand and dirt which may cause impaction of the gut. Hungry stock may ingest poisonous plants or eat excessive amounts of indigestible roughage or grain. Drought affected stock released into rubbish tips have been known to die after consuming lead batteries, oil and diesel fuel and plastic bags.
The effects of parasites and infectious diseases are often amplified in drought conditions, partly because of increased transmission in crowded conditions such as around water and feed sources, but also because of lowered immunity associated with poor nutrition. Outbreaks of diseases such as salmonellosis, fibrinous pneumonia and pinkeye can devastate drought affected stock.
Some things to consider:
- Ensure ready access to sufficient supplies of suitable water;
- Check stock regularly to minimise stock injuries and death;
- Carefully consider using commercial lick blocks; they are usually a very expensive form of supplement and can be toxic to hungry stock if they contain grain or urea;
- Minimise handling, and the distances stock need to walk for food and water to limit the loss of body condition;
- Get advice and be very careful when feeding novel feedstuffs. Chemical residues may be present which may cause poisoning, or contaminate meat and milk.
- Feedstuffs such as fruit, bread, urea mixes, fat, milk products and grain can cause illness in stock if fed too much too quickly. Dietary changes, particularly with grain, should be made slowly.
- Never release hungry stock onto green pasture or crops.
- It is illegal to feed meals derived from animals such as meat, fish and feather meal to ruminants (including sheep and cattle).
- Stock containment areas are useful for feeding, watering and monitoring stock whilst protecting paddocks from erosion, and minimising walking for stock, and can save you labour.
For more information, visit www.depi.vic.gov.au, call at your local DEPI office, or contact the Customer Information Centre on 136 186.