Protecting your livestock in drought

There is a difference between normal variation in seasonal rainfall and severe rainfall deficiency. Drought is a severe shortage of food or water, usually the result of prolonged periods of low rainfall. It is not a normal seasonal decline in the quantity and quality of food available.

Although droughts are not as predictable as seasonal variations, tools are available to help you assess the likelihood of drought and give them appropriate risk management strategies.

Market information and climate forecasting tools are becoming more sophisticated to assist producers in this decision making.

Actions to take

As seasonal conditions deteriorate, you should reduce stock numbers or supplement stock as part of normal dry season management.

You should maintain livestock in at least strong store condition. If you believe that these minimal requirements may not be met, you need to implement risk management plans. These can include:

  • further reducing stock numbers
  • weaning early
  • segregating animals on the basis of size and strength to minimise competition for supplements
  • where mating is controlled, deferring mating
  • humanely destroying severely weakened animals.

Take these actions as early as possible when conditions are deteriorating or at risk of deteriorating.

Determining adequate food supply

The amount of food required to maintain an animal depends on factors including sex, breed, age, environment and activity level.

The appropriate level of feed will vary under different circumstances. You must consider the availability of fodder and overall seasonal conditions when determining what is an appropriate level of feed.

Several indicators can help determine whether an animal is being maintained in reasonable condition, including:

  • gait - the ability to move freely without swaying or stumbling
  • strength - the ability to rise and lie down without a struggle
  • birthing - the ability to give birth with minimal complications
  • lactation - the ability to produce sufficient milk to sustain suckling progeny
  • body condition - a minimum condition score of 2 on a 5 point scale. This may vary between breeds and country types
  • demeanour - where the animal is alert and responsive to its environment.

You need to use a combination of these indicators to determine an animal's state.

Close monitoring

If stock are in a weakened condition, you must monitor them closely. Animals that are in poor condition and do not feed should receive appropriate treatment or be humanely killed.

Sustainable stocking rates

You should maintain sustainable stocking rates and develop property plans that incorporate effective drought management strategies.

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