Recovery and rehabilitation for your livestock operation after bushfire - Elders Rural Services

Recovery and rehabilitation for your livestock operation after bushfire

The bushfires across eastern, southern and some parts of western Australia this summer have had a devastating impact on the country’s livestock industry and stock levels. 100,000 head have perished in the disaster, with a further 8.6 million sheep and 2.3 million cattle being directly or indirectly affected.

Through our network of branches, staff and clients, we have seen first-hand the extent of the losses suffered by livestock farmers nationwide. While the road to recovery won’t be without its challenges, there are measures those in fire-ravaged areas can take to promote the recovery and rehabilitation of their herds.

Wagga Wagga Livestock Production Manager Rob Inglis shares his expertise.


Fires pose significant risks to livestock that go well beyond the threat of being burned. Poor air quality resulting from elevated levels of soot, ash and dust, can harm livestock on farm. Contaminated air exacerbates the risk of a whole suite of respiratory disease, such as bovine respiratory disease (BRD). Pinkeye, a form of conjunctivitis, is another common implication of poor air quality.

The fires have also destroyed large swathes of pasture and grazing land across the country. This has placed severe strain on the supply of good quality, highly digestible feed. Compromised access to nutritionally beneficial foodstuff places the animal’s immune system under great stress that, when combined with poor living conditions, makes it more susceptible to illness and disease.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms such as nasal discharge, weepy eyes and poor coat colour are indicative of declining health. Bottle-jaw, a soft, floppy swelling of the tissues underneath the jaw, is also often a tell-tale sign of protein deficiency. It is important to note that this deficiency is not necessarily a reflection of a poor diet, rather a failure of the animal’s digestion system to make enough protein to facilitate proper bodily function.

Medical attention

Livestock that have been affected by fire should be inspected and assessed by a veterinarian as soon as is practical. Qualified vets will be able to make quick diagnoses, administer appropriate treatments and ultimately get affected animals to a point where they can commence their rehabilitation. Medical assessments will also better inform farmers as to the steps they should be taking to best facilitate the full and speedy recovery of their livestock.

Food and water

Energy depletion can often cause increased stress levels in stock. It is recommended that good quality, low to moderate protein hay (preferably not lucerne or canola) is offered to affected animals, as feed with excessive protein may place an unintended burden on vital organs.

It is important to get feed tested to determine both its nutritional capability and the presence of nitrates and moulds. Once energy density and nutrition has been determined, feed schedules can be put in place to meet growth and maintenance requirements. It is highly recommended that hay is treated with Generade premium liquid or Beachport Green Cap.

Availability of fresh, clean water is crucial for livestock to recover, grow and prosper. Rains in recent weeks will make a big difference. Affected livestock will consume in excess of one litre per 10 kilograms of live weight (up to eight litres per day for sheep and 80 litres per day for cattle) during the recovery period. For farms in fire-affected areas, water should be tested for contamination to make sure it is free of germs and bacteria.


Livestock should be provided with a supplement high in vitamins A and E.

Mucous membranes, particularly those which cover the respiratory lining and the eyes, may have been damaged by heat and smoke. Vitamin A plays a vital role in maintaining membrane integrity, thus mitigating the probable onset of pink eye and respiratory disease.

Stress experienced by livestock suppresses the animal’s immune system, the functioning of which is vital for their recovery. Vitamin E is an important antioxidant, and an integral cog in the immune response.

For more information or to learn how Elders can assist you in caring for your livestock, speak to an Elders Livestock Production Advisor by contacting your local branch.