All livestock owners need to be well prepared and plan for the possibility of a fire emergency on their farm.
A key factor in minimising the risk to livestock during a bushfire or on extreme fire danger days, is to identify safer areas on the farm where livestock can be moved.
The area you choose will depend on the type of livestock you are farming and their expected behaviour during a fire.
Other factors to consider include the terrain and accessibility of the area as well as the behaviour of the fire itself.
Having a livestock fire plan that has been carefully thought through and can be quickly executed will minimise the risk to stock and people, especially if that plan has been practised prior to an event.
Having a firebreak of some sort is imperative — using bare laneways and ploughed breaks can be effective, as can heavily grazed paddocks with low-level vegetation.
Low risk areas shouldn’t be next to areas of scrub or bush-land and should be large enough to allow livestock to move away from a fire.
All low risk areas should have sufficient drinking water to enable stock to remain in the area for extended periods of high fire risk and high temperatures, be protected by firebreaks and be free of leaf, twigs and bark build-up.
Areas where there are dams and swamps are also safer.
Stockyards have been known to successfully hold stock during a fire if protected by a firebreak.
If this is your preferred option, consider using a sprinkler system so that stock that are being held together on a hot day, don’t suffer heat stress.
Horses should not be locked up in small areas or stables but moved to an open paddock with minimal vegetation, so they can move freely.
Horses are good at moving themselves to safe open areas and usually suffer minimal burns if left to do so.
If equipment such as rugs, halters and fly-veils remain on horses, the plastic may melt, and metal buckles can burn the animal.
Consider using rope halters for easier handling and management.
It’s crucial not to open gates that may allow stock access to public roadways, as they will be a hazard to traffic in smoky conditions.
If you intend to relocate your horse to a safer property, ensure this is done early in the day before a fire threatens, or ideally the day before.
On days of extreme fire danger or ideally the day before, stock should be moved into lower risk areas.
Aim to act early and don’t get caught trying to move stock as a fire approaches and listen to weather forecasts and observe your own environment to help you decide when to put your plan into action.
■For more information on preparing a farm and livestock bushfire plan, go to: agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/emergencies or phone the Agriculture Victoria Customer Service Centre on 136 186.
—Dr Jeff Cave
district veterinary officer