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Queensland graziers face a 'green drought' as dams run dry and disease threatens stock

Amy McCosker, Thursday May 23, 2019 - 07:49 EST
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John Gardiner says while it can look luscious, there are still many issues for droughted cattle. - ABC

While many might assume the cure for drought is rain, some producers in Queensland are finding that after years of dry weather it is going to take more than that.



graziers are now amid what some call a and have a whole new raft of issues to deal with.

John Gardiner from Bonfield near Augathella in western Queensland said he felt like he had gone into another drought despite having had almost 180 millimetres of rain.

"Here there's four dams that are only a quarter full and one dam that's completely empty," he said.

"The rain was so steady but we didn't get any heavy falls … so the water didn't run into dams.

"When there's green grass but no water you've got to work as hard as being in a dry drought."

Mr Gardiner said many people in the community had been finding the situation challenging.

"It makes it hard and people get really desperate because they've got heaps of feed but they've run out of water," he said.

"You've got to keep pumping water and it's expensive … because there's no water for stock, no water for the house, no water for your gardens. It's the same thing."

Disease and poisoning an issue

On top of access to water for stock, the quick change in season has brought other challenges.

Recent rain has led to outbreaks of cattle illnesses caused by the combination of wet weather and access to lush green grass after months — or years — of dry pasture and supplements.



Longreach animal nutrition consultant, Desiree Jackson, said it can be a somewhat confusing time for producers who have been managing droughted cattle and country for so long.

She said stock can be poisoned by plants they would have previously been fine to eat before the drought.

"There appears to be a lot of bulk there," Ms Jackson said.

"But if you took out all the different things that cattle and sheep wouldn't willingly consume there isn't a lot of standing dry matter."

Ms Jackson said farmers need to be careful managing their stock numbers in the current conditions.

"Plants that are normally in a mix with grasses provide some very nutritious feed," she said.

"But when they dominate a pasture, and when stock are hungry and haven't got the rumen microbe population to detoxify … some people have run into issues with that."

Ms Jackson said the problems were expansive.

"You're not out of trouble coming out of a drought, you just have a whole new set problems to contend with," she said.

"There's also the added problem of a rapid change.

"When they go from a diet where the feed was very poor quality, low digestibility and then go to a diet that is predominated by herbage, you also have a build up of nitrogen in the soil."



Pregnant cows at risk

Clermont vet Alan Guilfoyle has similar warnings for graziers.

"One thing that producers might notice is how the cattle react to eating lush, green feed," he said.

"Naturally, there is a lot of diarrhea getting around until the feed firms up.

"Producers should be aware that any of the improved pastures are high oxalate and that does affect cattle.

"It produces a sub-clinical hypocalcaemia and cattle don't have endurance … and they will be very lethargic.

"If this happens around the time of giving birth the cows don't have the strength in their bodies to deliver a calf."

Dr Guilfoyle said early calcium supplementation would help cattle avoid the issue.

Despite the new range of challenges, Mr Gardiner said he was still relieved that rain arrived and that these seasonal issues would pass.

"The rain was beautiful. It made the grass jump out of the ground," he said.

"The cows are in heaven. They are walking along and they are full of grass they just lay down — they love it."


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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