Meat & Livestock News

Extreme Weather Triggers Cattle Losses in Australian Feedlots

Over the recent long weekend, Queensland and parts of New South Wales experienced severe weather conditions, leading to heat stress and the death of a significant number of cattle in several feedlots. 

Reports indicate that at least five feed yards in regions such as the western and southern Darling Downs and South Burnett were affected, with losses ranging from 20 to 50 cattle in some locations. The extreme heat began on Saturday and persisted into Sunday, following a series of intensely hot days and nights.

Particularly affected were British breed cattle, especially those close to finishing their feedlot programs or those transported from the south to feedlots near the Queensland border. In an effort to mitigate the heat stress, some feedlots resorted to moving cattle to nearby grass paddocks, a measure rarely taken.

The financial impact of these losses is substantial, with estimates suggesting that some yards may have faced losses exceeding $100,000, given the average cattle value of $1,500 to $2,000 each. The severity of the situation prompted mandatory mortality reporting under the National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme (NFAS), reflecting the serious nature of the heat stress event.

The weather conditions, described as a ‘perfect storm’ of high temperatures, high humidity, and low wind speeds, significantly contributed to the heat stress. For example, the Dalby region recorded humidity levels up to 97% and temperatures as high as 39°C, with low wind speeds exacerbating the situation. These conditions made it difficult for cattle to cool down, particularly at night, a time when they typically recover from the day’s heat.

Despite the challenging circumstances, the industry’s preparation and response efforts, including comprehensive heat stress management plans, were crucial in preventing even greater losses. Feedlots are equipped with advanced weather monitoring technology to predict and respond to heat stress conditions effectively.

The Australian Lot Feeders Association (ALFA) has responded to the crisis by emphasising the challenges posed by the prolonged and severe heatwave. ALFA reported six heat load events affecting approximately 320 cattle and expressed sympathy for the impacted businesses and their dedication to animal welfare. Feedlots accredited under the NFAS have stringent Heat Load Management Plans in place, which were activated in response to the heatwave, in consultation with veterinarians and nutritionists.

As the industry braces for more hot weather, ALFA advises feedlot operators to remain vigilant and adhere to their heat management plans. The association also highlights the importance of ongoing communication with government veterinary officers and the RSPCA, as well as the value of post-incident reviews to strengthen future heat stress management strategies.