Drought - A Few Things to Remember

10th May 2018

Nigel Brown, Geoff Green and Beth Brown - Northern Tablelands LLS

The January to April 2018 period was the driest first quarter of the year for NSW as a whole since 1986. Few places across the Northern Tablelands have had a typical growing season and much of the area is in a really weak condition for livestock production this winter.

Making timely decisions is crucial so asking for professional help is a priority. The aim of this article is to provide resources and contacts for expert advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – it’s what we’re here for!

Issues to be aware of in dry times

Your budget

Review your cash flow budget for the next 12 months to help you make informed decisions about what you can afford. The Rural Financial Counselling service can provide free and confidential assistance with budgeting. (Contacts below).

Weight loss

Weight loss occurs with an animal’s metabolism in ‘tissue breakdown’ mode. It is better to start supplementary feeding before this develops so your animals will hold weight rather than to try and reverse losses when they have started to become obvious.

Stocking numbers

Consider selling stock sooner rather than later or keeping animals that will require supplementary feeding. Agistment options may be limited because of the position elsewhere in the State.


Good fertility requires a healthy body condition and, preferably, rising plane of nutrition at joining. At the other end of pregnancy, the greatest growth of the foetus takes place in the last third so the quantity and quality of feed then is critical to birthweight. Good birthweight is crucial for newborn survival, colostrum, immunity, growth and weaning percentages. Inadequate feeding in late pregnancy can have a massive impact between now and spring.

Supplementary feeding

Think about protein and energy aspects of diet. If ruminants gorge on easily fermentable grain they can quickly develop acidosis and die. Protein levels of some pastures and feeds are inadequate for pregnancy or even maintenance because animals cannot eat enough low quality feed, especially with a growing foetus taking up space. Ensure adequate food access for all animals - avoid greedy ones eating too much as weaker animals will starve.


Ruminants manufacture most of their own vitamins in the rumen but prolonged drought often reduces levels of vitamins A and E so supplements may be needed.


All ruminants should have access to salt every day of the year with licks or rock salt; magnesium and/or calcium are needed in some circumstances. Selenium is widely deficient and most producers will improve production by supplementing this and other minerals in all seasonal conditions.

Infectious diseases

Supplementary feeding increases the risks of clostridial diseases such as pulpy kidney / enterotoxaemia; 5-in-1 vaccine is important. Give at least 10 days before introducing supplements.


Livestock drink less water from muddy dams so their rumen digestion works less efficiently. Consider installing troughs with a small pump.


All owners have legal and LPA requirements to keep good animal welfare and should have their own copy of Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for sheep and cattle (see weblink below).

Mental Health     

Increased workloads feeding stock, the financial worry of poor stock prices plus rising feed costs are a major stress which can lead to further health problems. Seek help and look out for your family and neighbours (see contact details below).

Financial Assistance

A range of packages is available to assist producers. For financial assistance please contact your Rural Financial Counselling Service (see contact details below).

For more information, advice and help:   

DroughtHub - https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/climate-and-emergencies/droughthub

Animal Welfare Guidelines     http://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/

Northern Tablelands LLS

Brent McLeod - for sheep management and nutrition                        - 0413 884 710

Jason Siddell - for cattle management and nutrition                          - 0459 162 295

Andrew Biddle (Inverell) - for animal health and biosecurity              - 0427 825 725

Lisa Martin (Tenterfield) - for animal health and biosecurity              - 0428 623 471

Nigel Brown (Glen Innes) - for animal health and biosecurity            - 0419 434 087

Rural Financial Counselling Service NSW 

Stuart Brummell (Glen Innes)                                                             - 02 6732 3325

Geoff Mill (Inverell)                                                                              - 02 6721 0030

Ray Wienart (Armidale)                                                                      - 02 6778 4784

Rural Adversity Mental Health Program

Sarah Green                                                                                       - 0428 109 990


Media contact: Annabelle Monie, Communications Officer – 0429 626 326 

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