After the north-west Queensland floods

After the floodwaters in north-west Queensland have receded, there are a number of factors to consider to ensure long term productivity of a pastoral business. Below are a list of resources that may help maintain focus.

Information about financial assistance following the February 2019 floods can be found on the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority (QRIDA) website. Listed on this page are the shires that have been granted access to Category B and C assistance packages. Producers in affected areas can apply for grants of up to $75 000 to help with things like hiring and leasing of equipment, removing debris or damaged goods, repairing or replacing fencing or other essential property infrastructure, replacing livestock, salvaging feed or crops and maintaining the health of the surviving livestock.

DAF and QRIDA held a webinar on 25 February regarding available financial assistance. The recording of the webinar can be viewed here.

An additional subsidy for the freight of fodder, equipment and livestock is available from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF) under the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements to the maximum amount of $5000. Details regarding eligibility and applicability are available on the DAF website.

An alternative subsidy that is available to offset the cost of freight when restocking a property can be applied for through the Drought Relief Assistance Scheme. The amount of the subsidy is dependent upon the number of years a property has been drought declared and the submission of a DAF supported Drought Management Plan. However, primary producers will need to apply to have their drought status revoked prior to the purchase of additional cattle or the re-introduction of currently owned stock from agistment. Click here to read more information about this subsidy, the terms of the agreement, how to apply and contact details of who to contact if you have further questions.

Applicants of either the QRIDA assistance package or the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements, who are intending to bring livestock onto a drought declared property, will need to consider the implications of doing so to their eligibility to access to Drought Relief Assistance Scheme subsidies.

To identify which freight subsidy is most suited to your business and circumstances, please call 13 25 23.

Essential household content grants are available to help replace essential household items for those who have been affected by natural disasters such as flood and are uninsured or unable to claim insurance. The structural assistance grant is available to help those in a similar situation who are uninsured or are unable to claim insurance to make their home secure and safe.

The Rural Financial Counselling Service have compiled an additional list of grants and assistance available for primary producers and families that have been affected by the February 2019 floods.

The Australian Veterinary Association is providing a free advice hotline where calls are answered by experienced cattle vets for flood affected graziers who have concerns about the health of their animals. The number to call is 1800 621 918.

In many ways, animals in drought experience the same nutritional challenges as those animals affected by recently flooded conditions – difficulty in accessing sufficient amounts of quality feed to meet their nutritional demands. The New South Wales Department of Primary Industries provides a good summary of the role of low quality hay and silages in such situations. The article also highlights situations where low quality hay will not be enough to sustain the needs of the livestock.

Pastures in the early stages of growth are high in quality and attractive to stock. However, the low initial pasture availability (<400 kg/ha) restricts animals’ feed intake and animals will lose body condition even though feed quality is high. The situation is exacerbated by the physical loss of the old feed following heavy rain.  The rumen microbes also require time to adapt to the changed diet for animals to fully utilise it. When pasture response is slow due to drought and/or flooding, the period of low feed intake and weight loss will be increased.

Supplementing livestock on phosphorus deficient country with phosphorus during this time will remain important to allow the animals to make the most of the available energy and protein in the fresh pasture.

After floods, it is common to experience waves of insect borne diseases such as three-day sickness and Akabane.

Animals suspected to have three-day sickness are best left alone with access to clean water and feed. The impact of Akabane however won’t be observed until breeders calve, when deformities in the offspring’s skeletal structure can be seen.

While vaccinating against three-day sickness may be cost prohibitive in some circumstances, supplying livestock with a form of insect repellent may decrease the risk of the animals contracting insect borne diseases.

 

Poisonous plants are often among the first pasture species to germinate. Pigweed and button grass may dominate areas such as yards and laneways and pose a risk of poisoning to cattle. If cattle have access to a mix of pasture species, the risk is reduced. Other poisonous plants that grow quickly after heavy rain include crotalarias or rattlepods and Noogoora burr. Nardoo will also grow quickly after flooding. Symptoms of plant poisoning can be found here.

DAF have recently updated their advice for managing carcass disposals. In the updated factsheet, the importance of effective carcass disposal for the health of humans and the remaining animals are discussed, as well as factors to consider when deciding upon disposal options. Specific considerations for each of the flooded regions due to the variations in soil are also listed.

The flood will have distributed weed seeds widely in both water and soil. Species that were identified to be in the greater north-western Queensland district prior to the February floods included prickly acacia, mesquite, parkinsonia, bellyache bush, rubber vine, calotrope and multiple species of cactus.

Additional weeds, such as parthenium and giant rats tail, may be found around areas where emergency fodder was dropped. If you have received donated hay during the flood, it would be ideal to keep track of the locations where it was dropped. Helicopter pilots should have GPS track logs that will be of assistance here. Visiting these locations over the coming months and following years after rain will be necessary to monitor species emergence. If you become aware of a plant species that you are unfamiliar with, be sure to make note of where you have found it and take detailed photos of any seed pods, flowers or identifying features of the plants. A step by step guide of what to collect including information about soil type and structural details of the plant can be found here.  By forwarding this information to your local DAF biosecurity officer, extension officer or shire weeds officer, the plant can be identified and advice for control or eradication will be provided if applicable.

Ticks also flourish in warm and wet conditions. While not all ticks carry tick fever causing organisms, an increase in tick numbers is likely to cause an increase in the occurrence of tick fever. Symptoms of tick fever include depression, weakness, jaundice, fever, staggering and death. Monitoring of stock before mustering will determine if vaccine needs to be ordered in advance.

During flood events, the removal of soil via erosion will expose spores that would otherwise have been left concealed, therefore outbreaks of clostridial diseases can occur. Vaccinating animals with 5-in-1 will reduce the likelihood of stock contracting blackleg, black’s disease, tetanus, malignant oedema or pulpy kidney.

Vaccinating against botulism is also recommended as the toxin releasing bacteria that cause botulism live in decaying matter. Botulism is not normally a problem on downs country south of the tick line but the presence of large numbers of carcasses may increase the risk.

 

Business Queensland has an informative page regarding identifying stray cattle after natural disasters and another that outlines the documentation that may or may not be required depending upon the proximity of the owner to the animals in question.

A crucial question being asked is how long before the pasture grows enough feed for my livestock. This will vary depending on how long it takes for pastures to grow enough bulk (300-500 kg/ha of dry matter), which would normally be about two to four weeks.

A good rule of thumb: Pasture needs to grow to 10 cm in height before cattle can graze it efficiently.

The rate at which pasture will respond is dependent on a number of factors including how long the pasture was under water and how fast the water was moving.

DAF rangeland scientists have provided these estimates based on prior experience, satellite imagery and observations made of the impacted area during February 2019:

  • Pasture has responded quickly where 100-400 mm of rain has fallen. Pasture growth of 400-1000 kg/ha or more, of good quality feed can be expected.
  • Areas that received 400-600 mm of rain are experiencing slower pasture growth. Current estimates of 250-300 kg/ha of growth has been observed with potential for 1500 kg/ha of growth or better to be expected in those areas before the end of the growing season.
  • The soil is taking time to dry out in areas that received more than 600 mm of rain, therefore, pasture growth is slow in these areas but will occur eventually.

More rules of thumb:

  • Bull and hoop Mitchell grasses are very resilient and can recover even after 7-10 days being underwater. Barley Mitchell is the least tolerant.
  • Gulf plains of bluegrass and silky browntop are flood tolerant and will grow ‘reasonable’ amounts of feed approximately three weeks after the flood water recedes.
  • A light dusting of silt will not inhibit pasture recovery.
  • A silt layer of more than 5-10 cm covering grasses will require a rain event of 15-30 mm to wash it off the plants and allow them to reshoot.
  • Buffel grass that was flooded for 3-5 days is at risk of high death rates.

Pasture recovery resources that may be helpful include:

When the pasture has reached the end of the growing season, producers may find that the plant dynamics and species distribution has changed within the landscape. In such circumstances, this will correlate to a change land condition resulting in an impact on the long term carrying capacity of the affected area.

FutureBeef has a number of helpful forage budgeting articles, recorded webinars and a series of ‘how-to’ videos if you wish to refresh your memory.  A successful forage budget is dependent upon pasture species knowledge and accurate total standing dry matter estimations. If you would like assistance with compiling a forage budget, please contact your local DAF extension officer.

Your health and safety and that of those around you is of utmost importance. Due to the amounts of soil that have been moved by the flood waters, it is likely that disease causing soil borne pathogens will now be found in areas previously not experienced. Meliodosis is one such disease that can be fatal to people.

An increase in diseases and viruses carried by mosquitoes and sandflies are also likely to be experienced around the flood affected region. Queensland Health has a comprehensive factsheet about the signs and symptoms of the more commonly experienced mosquito borne diseases in the state, including steps that can be taken to minimise the risk of becoming ill.

The bacteria that cause leptospirosis and brucellosis can live in animals and are usually contracted by humans through the exposure of broken human skin to the bodily fluids of an infected animal. The bacteria can however survive in flood water (leptospirosis) and in carcases of pigs (brucellosis). Therefore the best prevention is to cover all abrasions and injures with waterproof dressings and use appropriate personal protection equipment when handling or disposing of carcases.

If you are not vaccinated against Q fever additional preventative measures should be taken to minimise the risk of inhaling Q fever causing bacteria.

Disinfecting and covering cuts and abrasions will also be important for minimising the risk of tetanus.

WorkCover Queensland have a number of factsheets regarding health and safety laws when cleaning up after floods and invite anyone who has queries about their insurance to contact them on 1300 362 128.

NQ Connect is providing mental health support for flood-affected Queenslanders. NQ Connect is a free phone and online counselling service connecting people to mental health services that are best suited to their needs. This can be counselling people who are worried, stressed, and affected by the floods, to more complex cases requiring multiple health service providers and referrals. NQ Connect can be reached on 1300 059 625, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Beyond Blue has a helpful four page document “Emotional responses after a disaster” outlining expected or normal reactions to traumatic events, and those which might be considered beyond normal.

Contact details of other support services, such as those that focus on business support, managing stress, managing family dynamics after a disaster and more, can be found on the Queensland Government Support web page.

 

As more information becomes available, we will add to this collection of resources.

Last updated: 8 March 2019