Animal health in a drought

Stock owners must make good decisions to meet their moral and legal obligations to the welfare of their stock and their land.

It is critical to complete regular feed budgets to ensure decisions to sell livestock or buy feed are made prior to animal deterioration. This improves animal welfare and marketability of livestock.

If stock are weakened by drought they face extra risks.

Physical accidents

When stock are weak they are prone to physical accidents.

  1. Seek advice as to the construction of containment areas to ensure adequate space to move and to provide sufficient access to water and food.
  2. Fence off boggy dams or river banks so that stock don't get bogged, or move them to another paddock with accessible watering points. If new to watering points, watch closely, ensure they are able to use them. Hold them nearby initially.
  3. 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.

Abnormal eating habits

Drought affected stock can ingest large quantities of sand and dirt which may cause impaction of the gut. To prevent this do not overgraze land particularly those with sandy soils.

Hungry stock could gorge themselves on grain causing acidosis. To prevent this, ensure controlled introduction to grain occurs. Consider availability/ effectiveness of roughage and potential use of buffers.

Stock released into rubbish tips have been known to die after consuming lead batteries, oil and plastic bags. Do not allow stock access to these materials.  Hungry stock may ingest poisonous plants, particularly after rain.  Always seek veterinary advise to investigate unexpected stock deaths.

Predisposition to infectious disease

Drought conditions can amplify the effects of parasites and infectious diseases due to:

  • increased transmission in crowded conditions such as around water and feed sources
  • lowered immunity associated with poor nutrition

Outbreaks of diseases such as salmonellosis, pneumonia and pinkeye can devastate drought affected stock.

To reduce the risk:

  • Ensure access to sufficient supplies of suitable water.
  • Provide appropriate shade.
  • Ensure diet provided is carefully designed to meet nutritional requirements of each class of stock. Separate groups of livestock with different nutritional needs to feed more efficiently.
  • Check stock regularly to minimise stock injuries and death.
  • Carefully consider using commercial lick blocks - they 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. Request commodity vendor declarations before receiving novel feed stuffs.
  • Make dietary changes slowly. Feedstuffs such as fruit, bread, urea mixes, fat, milk products and grain can cause illness in stock if fed too much too quickly.
  • Never release hungry stock onto green pasture or crops.
  • Do not feed meals derived from animals such as meat, fish and feather meal to ruminants (including sheep and cattle). It is illegal to do so.

Create stock containment areas for feeding, watering and monitoring stock. Containment areas protect paddocks from erosion, minimise walking for stock and can save labour.

Page last updated: 05 Oct 2023