Flood recovery issues in cattle feedlots

Flood preparedness

There are several things you can do to reduce the impact of flooding. These may include:

  • finding the right insurance cover for your property, making sure to clarify whether you are covered for flood damage, as insurance policies have different definitions for flood, water damage and inundation
  • discussing alternative payment solutions with your bank in case a flood occurs and you are unable to make repayments due to isolation (e.g. road closures, road use restrictions or loss of communications) or crop and/or livestock loss
  • ensuring adequate supplies from commodity agents are on hand (and on high ground) to maintain ration delivery to cattle on feed
  • ensuring that a backup generator system is in place, and in working order, to adequately cover the feedlot's power needs if supply is cut off.

Cattle health and welfare issues

There are a number of potential cattle health and welfare issues associated with high rainfall and flooding. To prevent additional problems it is essential to monitor cattle for heat stress, three day sickness and botulism.

Heat stress

The combination of high rainfall and high temperatures means heat stress on cattle will pose major challenges for lot feeders. To minimise impacts on cattle, try to:

  • remove as much manure as possible from the pens
  • regularly monitor weather forecasts (using tools like the Katestone website to identify potential heat load events
  • update your 'excessive heat load action plan' so that you can implement strategies quickly.

Regularly cleaning pens during excessive rainfall events also reduces the potential for negative animal welfare publicity.

Three day sickness

Monitor your cattle for three day sickness during and after a flood event. Bovine ephemeral fever (BEF) commonly known as 'three day sickness' is a viral disease carried by mosquitoes and sandflies.

The impact of BEF depends on whether the cattle are susceptible to it because previously exposed cattle are resistant to infection for many years. Severe outbreaks can occur if animals of any age are introduced from areas where the disease is uncommon. The most effective method of prevention is vaccination.

The clinical signs are a sudden onset of fever as high as 41 °C followed by lameness, saliva drooling, stringy nasal discharge and sometimes swollen joints. Even though temperature usually returns to normal within 36 hours, affected animals can stop eating and drinking, and become depressed.

Some animals, particularly heavier cattle, may just lie down and refuse to move. By day three, the affected animal shows sign of recovery and will start eating again. While there is no medical treatment for the disease, you should provide affected animals with shade, water and food, as animals left exposed in hot weather are much more likely to have severe loss of condition or even die.

BEF can impair the swallowing reflex, so affected animals should not be drenched or force-fed. Doing these things may result in the animal inhaling food or water, possibly leading to pneumonia. The use of anti-inflammatory drugs is recommended for any animals that become recumbent. Such drugs would also be useful for any clinically affected animals, particularly ones not swallowing properly. This treatment is only available through veterinary prescription and a long withholding period may apply to some anti-inflammatory drugs.

For more information, contact your consultant veterinarian or Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23.

Botulism

After floods, botulism outbreaks in intensively fed cattle can occur if the feed is contaminated with the botulism toxin. The botulism bacteria growing in rotting animals or vegetable matter in stored feed produces the toxin. Ingested botulism bacteria can continue to grow in the rumen and gut of cattle, producing further toxins.

For more information, contact your consultant veterinarian or Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23.

Environmental regulation

During and after a flood, remember your environmental obligations, particularly the Development permit conditions of reporting and monitoring.

Lot feeders need to manage any holding ponds carefully. Holding ponds are designed to temporarily store effluent from major storms and when extended wet periods prevent irrigation of effluent. Monitor their storage levels closely and manage effluent irrigation carefully, aiming to avoid pond spills.

Aim to keep ponds empty as much as possible, so that they can cope with the run-off generated from major storm events and extended wet periods. Pump ponds out completely by the irrigation of effluent as soon as practicable after each rain event. If a pond spill occurs, the operator should make contact with the Environmental Regulatory office as soon as possible to report the event.

If you require any further information, please contact the Intensive Livestock Environmental Regulatory Unit on 07 4688 1605.

Water (stock and domestic)

Stock

Be aware of the possibility that the cattle's drinking water may become contaminated and unsafe for drinking. Surface waters such as dams and creeks may be contaminated due to blue-green algae blooms or rotting plant debris that may carry botulism toxins or bacterium. If waters are contaminated, try to secure an alternative clean water source to ensure the continued health of cattle.

Domestic

If you believe your domestic water supply could be (or is) contaminated, you should boil water for at least one minute before drinking. If you are unable to boil water, use concentrated household chlorine (sodium hypochlorite) bleach to disinfect water, mixing six drops of sodium hypochlorite to one litre of water. Leave it for at least 30 minutes before drinking. The smell and taste associated with chlorinated water will disperse if it is left to stand overnight. If water is very dirty or muddy, allow to stand for a day or more so that the larger and heavier particles can settle out, before attempting to strain it through a clean cloth before boiling or treating.

Infrastructure

Damage to infrastructures within the feedlot and surrounding farm regions can become extremely hazardous during the recovery period. Take any measures necessary to ensure the safety of personnel and the welfare of animals during this time.

Take photos of damaged infrastructure to be used as evidence for insurance claims or potential government assistance packages, or the possibility of any sort of litigation.

Human health issues

A number of agencies offer free and confidential financial and other counselling services for primary producers to help manage floods and other impacts. Qualified financial counsellors can explore the issues and problems you are facing, help you understand your current financial position and assess options for improvement. With respect to personal counselling, in the context of decision making and resilience, the following tips may provide some assistance:

  • focus on what you can control
  • take it a day at a time
  • keep talking with your family and friends
  • watch your children - when there is anxiety in the household (especially from the parents) children can be really affected
  • monitor your sleep
  • maintain your normal routine - get up at the same time and go to bed at the same time (as much as possible)
  • don't increase alcohol use - keep the routine normal
  • if you are getting a little grumpy (or your partner is), acknowledge it and try to discuss it
  • keep talking to the other partners in your business
  • look after yourself, your family and your mates.

Floods also pose an increased health risk due to mosquitoes, water contamination and electrical shocks and fires. Please be aware and take precautions against these risks.

You can contact the following agencies for support and assistance in times of flood:

  • Mensline Australia: 1300 789 978
  • BeyondBlue Info-line: 1300 224 636
  • Red Cross: 1800 733 111
  • Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277
  • Lifeline Telephone Counselling: 131 114
  • Kid's Help Line: 1800 551 800
  • Parent Line - 1300 301 300
  • Salvo Care Line - 1300 363 622

Carcass disposal

Routine carcass disposal should continue as a normal operation of the feedlot (including the control of vermin). If the designated disposal site is inundated with flood waters, then activate an alternative site on higher ground. Advice from the Intensive Livestock Environmental Regulatory Unit (ILERU) may be required before using an alternative site. Immediately report any mass cattle death event due to flood waters to ILERU and seek their advice for the preferred course of action in this situation.

Contact the ILERU on 07 4688 1605.

Vermin

Be aware that increased numbers of feral animals, such as rodents and pigs, often occur as these pests search for higher ground and/or new feed sources. Monitor pest numbers and implement your vermin eradication program before pest numbers get out of control.

NLIS

The National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) rules have some flexibility during times of flood to provide cattle owners and producers with options for dealing with displaced cattle. Some situations have straight-forward solutions in relation to NLIS tagging and database transfers and others may require approval from Biosecurity Queensland inspectors.

For instance, cattle that have been moved to your immediate neighbour can be returned home as soon as practical, whether NLIS tagged or not. However, while a database transfer is not required, a waybill is required. It is preferable to complete a waybill for each cattle movement (i.e. over and back) to cover the paperwork necessary for auditing purposes.

Contact Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23 for up-to-date information.

National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme

National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme (NFAS) requirements regarding days 'off feed' relate to the impacts upon NFAS Grain Fed Young Beef (GFYG) or Grain Fed (GF) requirements.

With regard to cattle stranded en route to slaughter, the Delivery Docket within the NFAS Standards stipulates that cattle can retain the GFYG and GF status for up to seven days from the date taken off the feedlot.

Given any exceptional circumstances surrounding a flood event, AUSMEAT will consider applications on a case-by-case basis, with the view of potentially extending this period by a further seven days, provided the lot feeders have the agreement of their processor and, in turn, their customers.

AUSMEAT can also provide advice to lot feeders regarding the requirements for cattle to obtain their GFYG or GF status if cattle have had to be taken off a grain fed ration due to a flood event.

Please contact ALFA for further information on 02 9290 3700.

Flood assistance

Please contact your relevant local, state and/or federal government agencies for advice and further assistance. The Australian Government maintains a Disaster Assist website, which features contacts, up-to-date information on assistance packages and links to other relevant websites and information.

Last updated 30 January 2013