Feeding and Watering Livestock After a Bushfire

​​While it is important to get good quality feed into livestock as quickly as possible after a bushfire, it is most important that you do not feed them grain or pellets only. A sudden switch from pasture to grain or pellets is likely to cause acidosis (commonly known as grain poisoning) and that can be a serious animal health and welfare problem. Grain or pellets should be introduced into the livestock's diet gradually.

Here are some tips for feeding and watering ruminant livestock in the days and weeks following the destruction of pasture by a bushfire:

  1. Where possible, move your livestock into a small holding paddock. There are several reasons for this
    • This will enable you to keep a close eye on them for signs of weight loss, burn injuries, lameness or other emerging health and welfare issues
    • The livestock will not be wandering around bare paddocks looking for feed that is not there and losing weight in the process
    • Any weed seeds brought in via hay or grain will be easier to manage in the longer term
    • When it rains, the spelled paddocks will have the best chance of recovery.

  2. Initially, feed hay or silage only and use the best quality hay or silage you can. Use a hay feeder or some other means of keeping the feed from being trampled and wasted. Feed the hay ad lib - that is, ensure the livestock has hay available all the time.
  3. Water is most important. Check that whatever watering system you have for the holding paddock still works. Most stock water systems use plastic pipe and fittings and the fire may have damaged these plumbing components. You may need to add additional watering points, depending on the number of livestock held in a single paddock.
  4. It is quite normal for some animals to be off their feed for a day or two after a major trauma such as a bushfire. Keep a close eye on your animals - you may need to isolate some if they are not eating so they do not have to compete for feed with the more aggressive eaters.
  5. Once the animals are eating and have had the chance to fill the rumen with quality hay, gradually introduce pellets or grain into the ration.
    • For sheep, alpacas or goats, start with no more than 100 grams of grain (and no more than 50 grams if it is wheat or barley) or pellets per head per day. The amount is increased every second day to reach a full ration of pellets over a week or so and a full ration of grain over a fortnight.
    • For cattle, start with no more than 500 grams of grain or pellets per head per day. Increase the amount every second day to reach a full ration of pellets over a week or so and a full ration of grain over a fortnight.
    • A full ration of grain or pellets for all ruminant species is around 1% of their bodyweight per head per day, providing they also have ad lib access to hay.

  6. Keep a watch for any signs of acidosis. The most common signs are scouring, lameness (caused by founder), bloat or just generally looking unwell (some foaming at the mouth, separation from the flock/herd). If signs of mild acidosis in an animal become apparent isolate it and remove all grain from its diet until it improves. If the signs are more serious, you should consult your vet straightaway, but in the meantime drench with baking soda in water - 20 grams of baking soda for sheep, goats or alpacas and 150 grams for cattle. Note lameness can also be associated with burned feet so careful observation and early diagnosis of health risks to allow appropriate intervention is required.
  7. When it rains and new pasture germinates in paddocks that were burnt, allow plenty of time for the pasture to recover before grazing. If stock are re-introduced too soon, there is a big risk of doing some permanent damage to perennial plants in the pasture mix.

For horses, good quality hay alone is generally sufficient immediately after a bushfire. Where possible, try and maintain whatever diet the horse was on prior to the bushfire. If that diet included pasture, then increase the availability of hay to offset the loss of the pasture. As with ruminant livestock, water is essential for horses following the trauma of a bushfire, so check their water supply still works.

For further information on feeding and watering livestock after a bushfire, please contact your local vet or the NRE Tas Animal Biosecurity and Welfare branch.

If you see livestock that are not being adequately fed or watered after a bushfire, please contact the RSPCA Inspectorate on 1300 139 947 or email reportit@rspcatas.org.au, or NRE Tas.​