The Federal Agriculture Minister fears stock losses from the recent Australian bushfires will exceed 100,000, as farmers around the country begin to assess the fires' impacts to their properties and livestock.
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PHOTO: Cattle stand on the side of a bushfire ravaged road at Quaama, in New South Wales. (ABC: Matt Roberts)

Key points:
Farmers are having to shoot stock too badly injured by bushfire to survive
Nine per cent of the national cattle herd and 12 per cent of the national sheep flock live in areas impacted by the fires
The Government has arranged 100 veterinarians to help with livestock assessments
WARNING: This article contains content which some readers may find distressing.

On the last day of 2019, a fire burnt towards Belinda Attree’s property in the Nariel Valley, near Corryong in Victoria’s north.

Like many other farmers, her family made the decision to open the farm gates to give their cattle the best chance of escaping the blaze, but many did not survive.

“It’s heartbreaking,” she said.

“The cattle were just dead in the paddock and my husband was just trying to put them all in one place to dispose of them.

“Having to pick them up on the forks of the tractor — he said they just fall apart.

“They just cook on the inside and explode.”

PHOTO: In the Nariel Valley, near Corryong, Belinda Attree says they’ve had to shoot a number of the cattle injured in the bushfires. (Supplied: Belinda Attree)

The race to treat those injured in the fires has started and it is understood many more livestock will need to be euthanised.

“We had cows with calves at foot,” Ms Attree said.

“Their teats are all burnt and they can’t feed their calves.

“Walking these cows down to the yard — there were calves just dropping, falling down and not able to walk, and we were having to go back and shoot them.”

Vets to assess stock

The Federal Government has made 100 veterinarians available to assist in assessing the livestock left standing, in similar situations across the country.

The Federal Agriculture Minister, Bridget McKenzie, said they were working with State Governments to understand the level of catastrophe.

“Last week I was out on the ground looking at the Corryong fire impact, and there were thousands of head dead there,” she said.

“In the South Australian fires — the Adelaide Hills — there would have been a little over 3,000 head deceased as a result of the fires directly, but in the subsequent weeks we’ve seen stock really dying because of heat stress and smoke inhalation.

“The Kangaroo Island fires, they’re talking tens of thousands of sheep and cattle so it’s going to be quite devasting on the national heard.”

PHOTO: Tens of thousands of cattle have died in the bushfires. (Supplied: Belinda Attree)

Ms McKenzie said with active fires still burning, delivering fodder and disposing of the deceased animals had been prioritised.

“When we are talking to state farming organisations, they are saying first and foremost we need to get fodder into these herds, and they also need clear water,” she said.

“The second thing they are asking is around access back to property and the fencing recovery task … and mental health issues that will be ongoing.”

Ms McKenzie said the government was looking to have dead livestock buried within a week.

“We know the disposal of livestock deceased from the fires is of paramount urgency,” she said.

“We know communities and farmers are struggling to deal with what are massive stock losses.”

Full extent of the loss won’t be known for months

A map put together by agriculture market analyst company Mecardo found about 8.6 million head of sheep and 2.3 million cattle live in areas impacted by the bushfires across Victoria and New South Wales, making up about 12 per cent of the sheep flock and nine per cent of the national cattle herd.

INFOGRAPHIC: Agriculture market analysts believe it could take months before the impact of the bushfires on stock is fully understood. (Supplied: Mecardo)

Senior market analyst Matt Dalgleish said because of the size of the area impacted, it could be months before the exact figures on stock losses were known.

“It’s a far bigger area than what was impacted by the Queensland floods, and that took about 3 months before we knew about the amount of cattle impacted,” he said.

Mr Dalgleish said alongside the initial stock loss there would be issues with feeding animals that survived.

“A lot of these areas have been fairly heavily drought impacted,” he said.

“You’ve got farmers that have been paying a lot of money to bring feed in to try and sustain the animals.

“Now this fire has potentially taken away all that investment they’ve made in trying to keep their flock or herd alive.”

Mr Dalgliesh said Australia was already facing a tight season for cattle and sheep numbers around the country.

“When we do get a reasonable enough turn in the weather it’s going to be a big scramble for those that want to get back in [to livestock production],” he said.

“It’s going to cost a lot of money to rebuild animal numbers.”

Dairy industry to be hit

Mr Dalgliesh said they would expect substantial flow-on effects to the dairy industry.

He said the sector, particularly around Bega, had already faced turbulent times prior to the fires.

“They’re now facing a situation where they have not been able to milk their animals for 48 to 60 hours because of the fires, and that also starts to impact the production of milk,” Mr Dalgliesh said.

“The supply chain from the farm and to the processors is also going to be disrupted by road closures.”

Ms McKenzie said power outages had also impacted dairy farms in the region.

“Because of the perishable nature of the product, a lot of them were very well prepared with generators, but now those generators after a week, and as the power shortages continue, will be needing to be fuelled,” she said.

Meanwhile in Victoria, Ms Attree said she knew of farms where milk supply that had been left to waste.

“The milk trucks can’t get in, they’re still having to milk their cows and feed their cows,” she said.

“And then they’re having to open up the vat and let the milk run out because it can’t get collected.

“It’s heartbreaking.”

Organic dairy farmers are in crisis due to drought, market consolidation, and skyrocketing energy and feed costs brought on by unstable global markets and inflation.

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