Now is the time for all livestock owners to be prepared and have a clear strategy to carry out in the event of a fire emergency on their farm.
A key factor in minimising the threat to livestock during a bushfire or on extreme fire danger days is to identify safer areas on-farm where livestock can be moved to.
The area you choose will depend on the type of livestock and their expected behaviour during a fire.
Other aspects to consider include the terrain and accessibility of the area, as well as the likely behaviour of a fire.
Having a livestock fire plan that has been carefully thought through and can be quickly executed will minimise the risk to livestock and people, especially if that plan has been practised prior to an actual fire event.
On days of extreme fire danger, or on the day before, livestock should be moved into lower risk areas on-farm, or to a safer property.
Low risk areas include paddocks with green summer crops or lucerne; bare paddocks with no dry feed; or a ploughed paddock.
Low risk areas should not be next to areas of scrub or bushland and should be large enough to allow livestock to move around and away from a fire.
All low risk areas should have sufficient drinking water to enable livestock 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 another option to consider.
Stockyards have been known to successfully hold livestock during a fire if protected by a firebreak.
If this is your preferred option, consider using a sprinkler system to minimise heat stress.
Horses should not be locked up in small areas or stables but rather should be moved to an open paddock with minimal vegetation, so they can move freely. Horses are good at moving themselves to safe open areas.
If equipment such as rugs, halters and flyveils remain on horses, the plastic may melt, and metal buckles can burn the animal, so consider using rope halters for easier handling and management.
It’s crucial that gates remain closed that may allow livestock access to public roadways, as any animals will present a hazard to traffic in smoky conditions.
Livestock owners are urged to act early and not get caught trying to move stock as a fire approaches.
Listen to weather forecasts and observe your own environment to help you decide when to put your plan into action.
For further assistance on preparing a farm and livestock bushfire plan, visit: agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/emergencies or contact Agriculture Victoria on 136 186.
By Dr Jeff Cave, Agriculture Victoria district veterinary officer