Check livestock, pets and animals

Assessing and treating livestock

Initial rapid assessment

Agriculture Victoria provides assistance to landholders and communities with animal welfare-related issues resulting from fires. This includes agricultural impact assessments.

For more details about assessing and treating livestock, see:

During this rapid assessment phase, our staff will contact affected landholders and collect critical information to establish the extent of the damage.

Detailed damage assessment

Agriculture Victoria staff will be assigned to visit your property as soon as possible to assist with a more detailed assessment of damage.

Our animal health staff will assess the condition of livestock and, if required, carry out or oversee the humane destruction of stock with severe injuries and those with a poor chance of recovery.

We will assist stockowners in categorising the affected stock as:

  • requiring immediate destruction
  • requiring emergency salvage slaughter
  • needing treatment and re-assessment
  • no injury.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1986) removes the option of doing nothing. Sick or injured stock must be treated or destroyed.

Assessing salvageable livestock

Agriculture Victoria assessors consider several factors prior to advising on the options of nursing and treatment, emergency salvage slaughter or humane destruction.

These factors include:

  • available facilities (yards and sheds) for nursing and treating livestock
  • whether the type of country permits intensive care of livestock (hard rocky ground versus soft unburnt areas)
  • quality and quantity of feed and water available, and whether agistment can be organised
  • general body condition of the livestock
  • age of livestock and cost-returns from the treatment option
  • concurrent illnesses that may be affecting the livestock
  • stage of pregnancy
  • wellbeing of the landholders and managers in making informed decisions as to the best welfare and outcome for the livestock.

Salvage slaughter

Emergency salvage slaughter must be considered early before swelling of limbs or acute lameness occurs.

Animals with quite severe burns may recover with intensive veterinary treatment and nursing, but this should only be attempted if the animals are of great sentimental or economic value. This can be time consuming, extremely costly and ultimately unrewarding.

Animals likely to survive will:

  • be mobile
  • have only localised skin damage on legs
  • have all or most hooves still intact
  • have only superficial burns to face, lips and eyelids
  • have only superficial burns to the anus, vulva, udder, teats or pizzle.

Humane destruction of injured livestock

Note: Landowners do not need to wait for Agriculture Victoria staff to visit to euthanise impacted livestock if they are confident they can do so humanely and safely.

It is the responsibility of the person in charge of animals to arrange for the humane destruction or salvage slaughter of emergency affected animals where the animals will continue to suffer if they remain alive, or where the animals have little or no chance of survival. Methods of destruction of animals must be humane.

Agriculture Victoria will assist as required in the humane destruction or salvage slaughter of managed animals when the person in charge cannot or will not perform the necessary actions to alleviate the suffering of their animals

If animals need to be destroyed in the paddock before Agriculture Victoria assessment teams arrive, make sure that you have a witness and contact your insurance company as soon as practicable to avoid the risk of voiding insurance cover.

The nature and extent of burns to livestock can vary widely between animals of different species; or animals within the same group depending on the nature of the fire and degree of exposure.

The behavioural instinct of individual animals and groups also affects the extent and distribution of burns.

Situations that warrant immediate destruction include:

  • animals unable to stand up or walk due to injuries or burns sustained during the fire
  • animals suffering from severe smoke or flame inhalation resulting in acute respiratory distress (as observed by facial burns; laboured breathing; frothing at the mouth and nose; and coughing)
  • stock with extensive burns to facial tissues and to the legs with swelling and a dry leathery appearance of the skin (severe burns to more than 15 per cent of the body surface).

It is the responsibility of municipal councils to coordinate the disposal of dead stock.

Disposing of carcasses

Bushfire, flood and drought may result in large numbers of animal carcasses requiring disposal.

The timing of animal carcass disposal is critical since any delay not only poses a risk to human health and the environment, but also the morale of emergency personnel and the affected community. It is critical that approved methods of carcass disposal are utilised and procedures are followed to minimise inherent risks of disposal, including biosecurity, environmental contamination or the spread of disease.

The following information does not relate to the disposal of carcasses related to Emergency Animal Disease (EAD) nor the disposal of routine livestock mortalities.

The Emergency Management Manual Victoria (EMMV) (Part 7) identifies the various agencies and their responsibilities related to carcass disposal.

Your local council

Coordination of clean-up activities including the disposal of dead domestic, native and feral animals. Find the contact details for your local council.

Agriculture Victoria

Provides advice on the disposal needs of dead animals.

A number of on-farm and off-farm options exist for the disposal of animal carcasses resulting from an emergency, including:

  • licensed landfills
  • knackeries and rendering facilities
  • high temperature incineration
  • on-farm burial.

Environmental Protection Agency

The Environmental Protection Agency provides emergency approvals in line with the Environmental Protection Act (1970).

Also see Disposing of carcasses in response to bushfires, flood or drought.

Managing surviving stock

Livestock likely to survive should be placed in a paddock that has soft soil (such as sand), appropriate shelter and shade, good quality feed and water. Many animals will not be hungry for several days and may lose condition before starting to recover.

Following previous bushfires many apparently unaffected sheep were exposed to hot post- fire ground causing extensive injury to the hooves. This resulted in acute lameness and subsequent destruction. You need paddocks which are not burnt to manage surviving livestock.

You must continually assess animals with injuries and be aware that even minor burns may have long-term effects on the surviving stock. Pregnant stock with minor burns to the teats are often later found to have occlusion of the teat canal and are unable to be milked or suckle calves or lambs.

Moderate burns to the hooves, legs, bare areas, lips and face may cause animals to die without appropriate veterinary treatment. The skin of the lower leg will appear dry, scorched and leathery. These animals are likely to suffer from internal damage which can include pneumonia and lung abscesses.

Shock may also kill many animals early following the fire.

Movement of livestock impacted by fire

Under normal trading conditions livestock owners are required to correctly identify cattle, sheep or goats with National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) tags prior to the livestock leaving their property.

During emergencies such as fires, when animals may need to be moved urgently for safety, treatment or agistment, this may not always be practical or possible.

For assistance with movement requirements, permits or possible exemptions contact Agriculture Victoria via:

Agistment

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

Agistment can be a cheap solution for feeding stock. Your agisted animals may even fatten on good quality feed and any animals left at home will have less competition for feed. Before agisting there are certain points that you should consider, and this is best done by inspecting the agistment area.

Fencing should be secure and handling facilities available. There should be a good quantity of quality feed and the agistment should be close to markets, so you do not have to bring agisted stock home again. Most agistment will be snapped up early, particularly if the fire is widespread, so this decision must be made swiftly.

A widely used form of agistment is to send your stock to a commercial feedlot, particularly finishing cattle for slaughter. While expensive, this may be offset by the sale of finished cattle at a premium price.

Also see:

Sell stock

Sale of stock provides ready cash as well as extra paddock feed for stock on hand.

Timing of the sale and the type and number of stock to be sold are the crucial management decisions in this course of action. Inevitably, after large fires there is a period of intense selling with large saleyard yardings and possibly depressed prices. As much as possible plan your selling strategy to avoid such buyers’ markets.

When selling stock, the best policy is to sell the less productive animals, so that at the end of the feed shortage a core of high producing animals will remain.

The decision to sell should be made quickly before the condition of the stock deteriorates. Animals in backward store condition should not be consigned to a saleyard. Consider direct consignment to an abattoir.

Feeding stock and fodder

If you intend to feed your stock, you need to ask yourself if you have the facilities, water and finances available to sustain this, especially if feed prices are at a premium.

If feeding stock is an option, Agriculture Victoria staff can assist with developing a feed budget. This identifies the amount and quality of feed required for the number and type of stock and also how long it is required for.

Feeding requires constant attention so you also need to consider future commitments and priorities such as cropping or shearing.

For more information, see:

Farmers in need of fodder, or those able to donate fodder to fire affect farmers, should call the VFF on 1300 882 833.

Smoke, ash and animal health

Livestock generally tolerate smoke (and ash) from fires relatively well; however some animals, particularly companion animals and horses, may experience respiratory problems and or eye irritation.

All animals that are exposed to significant amounts of smoke should be monitored closely for signs of distress. Respiratory symptoms, such as increased coughing or fast breathing may be due to irritation of the animal's airways.

Excessive tear production or full or partial closure of the eye are indicators of eye irritation or damage.

In areas where there are ongoing serious smoke impacts, livestock owners may want to consider relocating their animals, depending on advice from emergency services.

Ash fallout, depending on quantity, may impact on the palatability of pasture. If possible livestock should be placed on pastures that have the lowest ash burden.

If this is not an option then in order to maintain production, producers may have to increase bail feeding or feed out more good quality hay or silage. Agistment may also be an option for cattle and sheep farmers, and horse owners.

Every property and species is different and the levels of smoke and ash exposure will vary from day to day depending on the prevailing wind. Veterinary advice should be sought if animal owners are concerned that their animals are being affected by smoke or ash.

Fire is a natural part of the Victorian environment and livestock are from time to time exposed to bush and grass fires and the associated smoke, ash and embers.

The impact is typically short term and associated with the inhalation of smoke and ash during periods of intense exposure. For animals that have not been burnt, there are typically no long term effects.

Smoke generated by bush, grass and peat fires may contain smoke and ash that will include a variety of chemicals, including carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

Management of livestock exposed to smoke

Every property and species is different and the levels of smoke exposure will vary from day to day depending on the prevailing wind. The open-air environment of grazing enterprises is not expected to allow the buildup of gases.

However, where safe to do so, it is recommended that livestock are moved as far as practically away from the source of smoke. Horses that are in work (e.g. Thoroughbreds, Standardbreds and working stock horses) should be removed where possible (or should not undertake heavy work) as their ability to meet their oxygen requirements may be compromised.

Veterinary advice should be sought if animal owners are concerned that their animals are being affected by smoke or ash. Investigations into unusual illnesses or deaths of livestock (including horses) may be eligible for subsidised veterinary investigations under the Significant Disease Investigation Program. Private veterinary practitioners are aware of this program and can liaise with Agriculture Victoria to determine if funding is available on a case by case basis.

Learn more more about pets and smoke.

Food safety

There are no known issues from a food safety perspective associated with the exposure of livestock to smoke during bush, grass and peat fires.

Stock containment areas

See Stock containment areas for information on what to consider when establishing a stock containment area.

Property Identification Codes (PICs)

Property Identification Codes (PICS) are essential for identifying where livestock are kept and the person who is caring for them. As well as being used to assist disease control, ensure food safety and support market access.

PICs are also used to locate properties and owners that have livestock when emergency events such as fires occur.

It is vital that Agriculture Victoria can contact and visit all agricultural properties in the fire affected area to address any immediate animal welfare concerns, assess asset losses and guide other relief services to sites of high need.

Having an up to date PIC enables Agriculture Victoria to support impacted farmers.

If you own livestock and don’t have a PIC, or you need to update your PIC details, please call the Agriculture Victoria NLIS Helpline on 1800 678 779.

Learn more about Property Identification Codes.

Managing bees and hives

Following a bushfire or prolonged heat event honey bees can suffer heat and smoke stress.

Stressed colonies can take months to recover and some may eventually die. Intensive care is required to help bee colonies recover and minimise losses to the apiary.

Find out how you can care for your bees and hives and minimise any losses:

Pets

The following information will help you prepare to ensure the welfare of your pets during an emergency event such as bushfires or floods.

Pets and emergencies

Failing to plan ahead for your pets’ safety during an emergency puts everyone's lives at risk.

To find out more about what you can do to prepare you and your pets for an emergency, see Pets in emergencies.

Pets and smoke

Animals, like people can be sensitive to smoke. See Pets and smoke.

Caring for animals exposed to smoke and ash

Pets exposed to smoke or ash can experience potential harm and injury. See Care of pets exposed to smoke and ash.

Animals at relief centres

For the guidelines on managing animals at relief centres (which includes pre-emergency planning with your pets), see Managing animals at relief centres.

Lost, stray and injured animals

Find out what to do if you’ve found a lost stray or injured animal. See Lost, stray and injured animals.

Assisting wildlife

Fire grounds are dangerous, even after the fire front has passed - do not enter fire-affected areas to search for wildlife.

The Department of Environment, Water, Land and Planning (DELWP) leads and manages all activities for fire-affected wildlife impacted as part of an Incident Management Team and has trained wildlife officers who will work on the fire ground with accredited volunteers to help wildlife when it is safe to do so.

What if I find an injured animal?

If you find an injured native animal, the best thing you can do to help it is to contact an authorised wildlife shelter which will have the training and facilities to care for the animal.

Details of wildlife carers can be obtained by calling DELWP on 136 186 or via the DELWP website.

  • Following a fire, wildlife sightings in your area or on roads may increase. These animals may be stressed, disorientated or injured.
  • It is not recommended that you attempt to catch injured wildlife due to the risk of further injury to wildlife or to you.
  • If you have no other option, approach the animal with caution, keep physical interaction to a minimum and immediately take the animal to a vet or to an authorised wildlife shelter for assessment and care.

It’s an offence under the Wildlife Act 1975 to keep native wildlife at home - unless you are trained wildlife carer the animal may not get the specialised care it needs.

See DELWP: Help for injured animals.

Page last updated: 24 Nov 2020