Top five risks during wet weather management of stock

Beef Central, 17/03/2012


The recent heavy rains across large parts of eastern Australia have created  wet and humid conditions ideal for the spread of diseases and parasites that can be high-risk to animal health – and potentially fatal if not caught early.

According to Animal Health Alliance* chief executive Dr Peter Holdsworth, the prolonged heavy rains and extreme conditions have created both immediate and longer-term risks for producers.

As a result, AHA has prepared a list of the top five animal health challenges facing livestock producers and is urging them to be on high alert and take preventative measures where necessary to protect the health of their animals:


Current conditions provide an ideal breeding ground for both external and internal parasites and biting insects that spread diseases. 

Without a cold snap, parasite numbers could increase significantly, causing productivity losses and deaths in susceptible animals.

The warmer, wetter summer means that gastrointestinal parasites like barber’s pole may become a problem for beef cattle and sheep producers in areas where this parasite does not normally occur. This includes inland areas of Queensland and NSW and southern temperate areas of Victoria and NSW.

Producers in at-risk areas should conduct worm egg counts to monitor parasite burdens and consider drenching to protect against production losses and even deaths.

If conditions remain warm and wet into autumn, cattle ticks will continue breeding and producers in the tick-infested areas of Queensland and northeastern NSW will need to keep an eye on tick burdens. There is also a higher risk of tick-fever if cattle have been displaced due to flooding and broken fences.


Leptospirosis is a contagious disease that can infect both animals and people. 
It is spread via water supplies, pastures and soil contaminated with urine from infected animals. The bacteria can survive for extended periods in stagnant and running water and water-saturated soil.

In people, it generally causes moderate to severe flu-like symptoms, and can be fatal if left untreated.

Lepto is a major threat to cattle producers in particular, causing fever, milk drop, mastitis, abortions or the birth of weak or stillborn calves. People handling infected cattle are at risk of contracting the disease.

It can be prevented through vaccination and producers should seek the advice of their veterinarian to ensure they are taking the necessary precautions to protect their herd, themselves and their workers.


Clostridial diseases

Clostridial diseases such as blackleg and pulpy kidney are caused by commonly-found, spore-producing bacteria and can result in high mortality rates.

Fatalities are often the first sign producers have that there is a blackleg problem. 

The bacteria can be found in contaminated water and soil. Once ingested, blackleg spores move to the muscle and can remain dormant until triggered by bruising, exercise or transportation. Once triggered, the spores hatch and grow, producing toxins which cause blood poisoning and rapid death.

When waters subside and pastures start to grow, pulpy kidney becomes a risk in sheep and cattle. It is caused by a bacterium that is a normal part of the gut flora but flourishes when sheep and cattle consume very lush pastures. The rapidly growing bacteria produce a fatal toxin that can lead to convulsions and death.

While these diseases can have a devastating effect, they are also easily preventable.  A range of vaccines are available to protect livestock.


Wet and muddy conditions can increase the number of bacteria in the environment and increase the risk of environmental mastitis.

Dairy farmers are encouraged to monitor cows daily during milking. The earlier mastitis is detected, the easier it is to treat and prevent the spread to other animals. In parts of Victoria where cows are being dried off, appropriate dry cow therapy needs to be considered. This aims to clear existing infections from the udder; and teat sealants prevent new infections from developing during the dry period.


For mixed beef/sheep enterprises, the number one risk for woolgrowers is flystrike, with the wet weather and moderate to hot temperatures (16 to 38 degrees C) providing the perfect conditions for flies to lay eggs. The risk is even higher where there has been enough rain to keep the sheep’s skin wet for more than two days.

Growers will need to check their flocks regularly for signs of flystrike – as frequently as every two days if a long acting chemical has not been applied.

If sheep have been struck, they should be removed from the mob and treated straight away. The wool around the affected area should be clipped and a flystrike treatment applied as per the manufacturer’s directions on the label.

Preventative measures include chemical treatments; crutching and emergency shearing to control body strike; and appropriate disposal of struck wool.

“While the wet conditions make this a high risk time for producers looking after the health of their livestock, with close monitoring, preventative measures and quick treatment, we hope to see producers keep these five threats largely at bay,” Dr Holdsworth said.

AHA is encouraging producers to speak to their vets and animal health advisors to get advice on the best and most appropriate preventative and treatment options.

  • The Animal Health Alliance Ltd is the voice of the animal health industry in Australia.  It represents registrants, manufacturers and formulators of animal health products. Member companies represent 85pc of all animal health product sales in Australia. AHA manages both Commonwealth and State issues with the objective of ensuring its members can operate within a viable regulatory environment. It also contributes to sustainable industry risk reduction practices that provide business opportunities to members and add value to the broader Australian community.


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