Item 7 of 14
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Livestock management

Moving stock

If time allows, one of the best ways to protect your livestock from fire is to move them to the safest location on the farm (known as a ‘refuge area’), or even off-farm out of the fire risk region if practically possible.

Identify which animals are the highest priority to be moved. Prioritise the animals that are most important for your business to continue post-fire, because of their genetic or monetary value. Generally, breeding stock are highest priority (rams/bulls, then young breeders, then older breeders), with dry stock lowest priority. If you cannot move all livestock, focus on your high priority animals. This is easier if you graze them in easily accessible paddocks during high- risk fire periods, so grazing management leading up to summer is needed to ensure pasture availability.

Plan to move any stock before the fire arrives. It is not safe to move stock once the fire arrives. 

Refuge areas

A refuge area can protect your livestock from fire because it has a lower chance of burning than the rest of your farm. Ideally, you should have a permanent refuge area set up on your farm. If you don’t have a specific area in an emergency, choose an area away from rising slopes with minimal dry vegetation: yards, grazed out laneways, heavily grazed paddocks, cultivated paddocks, irrigated paddocks, green fodder crops or lucerne (take care if residual dry matter present). Avoid areas that border plantation breaks or forest as radiant heat is a danger to stock. If water is not available in the emergency refuge area, it must be provided once the fire front passes.

A permanent refuge area is an area of the farm where stock can be kept during a fire or flood. A sacrifice paddock makes a useful permanent refuge. A containment area (usually used for drought feeding) also works, especially as fire often occurs in a drought year. The principles for selecting and setting up sacrifice paddocks or containment areas from drought management also apply to bushfire refuge areas.

At minimum, a sacrifice paddock used as a refuge area should have pasture that you don’t mind being badly damaged, relatively flat land, minimal water run-on, a fireproof water supply, steel fencing and be close enough to yards and with good access for feeding and monitoring stock. Be aware of potential impacts on neighbours and public amenity. The refuge area should have large enough area to keep your stock for a period of days to weeks.

The refuge area is not just for emergencies – it is also a safe location to confine stock during fire recovery and can also be used for drought management and biosecurity quarantine. Because labour and cash flow are usually limited during early fire recovery, an existing refuge area will make recovery easier.

Pasture and feed

A fire may damage or destroy some or all of your pasture and/or stored feed. After a fire, roads may be closed and you will be busy. Calculate how much feed you would need to feed all your livestock for a week after fire if no pasture was available – an emergency feed budget. Record in your fire plan how much feed you would need, what types would be required and where you could source this feed from. If possible, have this kind of feed on hand before the fire season, but also have a back-up plan in case it is destroyed by fire.

If suitable, plan for feed that is less flammable (such as silage, pellets or grain, rather than hay) as you will be transporting it in a fire-affected district. If feeding grain or pellets, be aware of the risk of grain poisoning.