Agisting livestock affected by a bushfire

Often in the aftermath of fire, the most suitable (or only) alternative is to agist livestock away from affected properties.

Although there may be considerable pressure to move stock off an affected property due to the lack of feed or water and limited or non-existent containment areas or handling facilities, knowing what to do when moving stock will benefit their health and welfare in the long term.

Are the stock fit to travel?

Often emergency agistment can only be found some distance from the affected property. It's important that if there are any doubts about the health or ability of stock to cope with being transported, they must be assessed by a veterinarian or one of our animal health staff.

See Meat and Livestock Australia's useful guide Is it fit to load?

Who will be responsible for the husbandry of the stock whilst on agistment?

Whether it's cattle, sheep, goats, alpacas, horses or any other livestock, it is imperative to establish clearly who will be responsible for the day to day husbandry of the stock.

This may seem obvious but in an emergency situation that involves many different agencies, incorrect assumptions may be made as the priority is to move stock quickly.

Owners of stock should ensure both they and the agistor understand and agree who:

  • will check the animals each day
  • is responsible for providing supplementary feed if necessary
  • is responsible for providing any treatment required by fire affected stock.

It may not be possible for the owners of stock to attend to them daily as they try to resurrect their lives and livelihoods. Because of this, it's important for those offering agistment to recognise the potential time commitment on their part.

Owners of stock should also notify the agistor of their preferred veterinarian in case stock become unwell or are injured during their time on the property. These decisions would preferably be made before stock arriving on the agistment property.

Where fences have been destroyed by a fire and stock have been roaming freely, unintended matings may have occurred, leading to inadvertent pregnancies in stock.

Ideally a written agistment agreement should be signed between the two parties to provide written clarification of all responsibilities. An example of an agistment agreement can be found at Agistment for horses.

Responsibility for the costs associated with the agistment should also be clear from the onset of the agistment arrangement.

How can I protect my stock from disease while on agistment or while agisting stock?

When either agisting someone's stock or seeking agistment for your own stock, it's important to consider how to prevent potential disease spread if other stock are on the same property. By taking some simple precautions from the onset of agistment, you may save considerable disease control costs at a later date.

Although it may not always be possible in an emergency situation, ways to protect agisted stock (and/or other stock on the same property) are to:

  • request or provide as much information about the health of the stock as possible before agistment (ask for or provide the relevant Animal Health Statement for that species)
  • confine livestock from different properties to specific paddocks, or as a minimum, quarantine introduced animals in specific paddocks until their disease status can be determined.

The following are some specific diseases or pests that could be introduced into a herd or flock during agistment.

Virulent footrot

Although sheep may not be showing signs of lameness, they may be carrying Dichelobacter nodosus, the bacteria that causes virulent footrot, on their feet. This bacteria will only survive for up to seven days in the environment.

Keeping this in mind, undertake precautionary management to prevent its potential spread between mobs of sheep.

Lice

All livestock species are susceptible to their own particular species of lice.Sheep lice, in particular, may prove difficult and costly to eradicate once established in a flock.

Although recommended, inspection of a sample of sheep that only have a small infestation of lice will not always result in their detection. The best means of ensuring lice do not spread to other mobs of sheep is to keep the mobs separated until it is conclusively determined that the sheep are lice-free.

Johnes disease

Johnes disease is an insidious disease that can be present in a herd or flock for years before being detected. The bacteria that cause Johnes disease can also survive in the environment for up to 12 months.

Sheep, cattle, goats and alpacas are all susceptible to Johnes disease:

  • Generally, cattle only become infected with the cattle strain of the bacteria.
  • Sheep can only be infected with the sheep strain.
  • Goats may become infected with either the sheep or cattle strains of the bacteria.
  • To date, alpacas have only been found to be infected with the cattle strain.

The best way to avoid infection is to run herds or flocks as separately as possible, keeping in mind that bacteria may still be present in pastures for 12 months after agisted stock have left the property.

Participants in the CattleMAP, SheepMAP, GoatMAP and AlpacaMAP programs should be aware that movement of stock to unassessed land may jeopardise their program status.

Although the priority concern is to provide food and safe enclosures for livestock after a fire, movement in consultation with their MAP veterinarian is ideal if possible.

Intestinal parasites

Although not an immediate concern given the damage and loss associated with a fire, if agisting stock off an affected property, it may be advisable to drench stock as they arrive at the agistment property during their quarantine period and again on their return home.

Feeding agisted stock

If supplementary feeding of agisted stock is required, any dietary changes should be gradual. Grain feeding should be introduced slowly to prevent grain overload.

Also keep in mind that livestock may be introduced to different pasture types. These may include potentially toxic weeds that stock, which are likely to be hungry after their ordeal, may not have been exposed to previously.

Perennial ryegrass staggers is most prevalent at the time of the year that bushfires are most likely (in late summer and early autumn). Anecdotal evidence suggests that alpacas may be quite sensitive to staggers, as they have been detected with staggers on properties where other livestock species have not appeared to be affected.

All agisted livestock should be monitored when grazing potentially dangerous pastures.

Do I have to record stock movements if agisting after a fire?

In the event of a fire affecting livestock, the highest priority is their health and safety.

National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) regulations still do apply to the relevant species (for example, cattle movements should be registered on the NLIS database, and sheep and goats should be NLIS tagged) but animal welfare takes priority in the event of a fire.

NLIS requirements can be addressed once stock are relocated and their welfare is assured.

Download the fact sheet

References

  • Animal Health Australia
  • Pasture associated staggers in alpacas — Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 48(8) 10991104
Page last updated: 12 Jul 2021