Different tactics during the clean-up phase are seeing some small successes for north west Queensland graziers following the disastrous flooding.
“We tried to get the cattle up as quickly as possible,” said Kylie Stewart-Moore, a third generation farmer at historic Dunluce property at Hughenden.
“If we thought they had a chance at surviving we administered a 4-in-1 injection of calcium, phosphorous, magnesium and glucose.
"Anything with signs of pneumonia, rain scald, or cellulitis were given antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.”
Kylie, who is also a veterinarian, said they were lucky to have a stash of medications on board at home.
“And we’ve got a very good little team here,” she said. “We have a contraption set up with the tractor to lift the cattle that can’t be done by hand. It uses a couple of slings – one under the cow’s brisket and one at the back of the sternum - on a set of hay forks.”
Hay and water were also carted through the mud but over 50 per cent of remaining cattle continued to decline and required euthanasia.
“But we celebrate the little wins,” Kylie said. “Almost all the animals that were able to remain up have turned around after several days of good nutrition and sunlight, and are returning to normal. It makes the effort very worthwhile.”
Dunluce was one of the first properties in the local area to get hit by flooding and first to have waters recede.
Recovery efforts included the use of helicopters to spot cattle with the property’s response team on four-wheelers and tractors.
Despite the ‘decent bill’ expected for helicopter services, Kylie said it was the only choice when cattle are down and suffering.
She said the whole event was still very raw but that she considered Dunluce lucky compared to other properties.
“We lost cattle but we’re very fortunate in all of this,” she said. “A lot of people in Julia Creek and Richmond have lost a lot more – cattle, horses, everything.”
Twenty kilometres west of Julia Creek, at Eddington Droughtmater Stud, Anthony and Rachael Anderson estimated they had lost 45pc of their cattle at the start of the week.
Mr Anderson said the event was a bit hard to comprehend but that they had seen some positive results with his approach to managing the surviving cattle.
“I always say ‘feed the rumen bugs not the cow’,” he said, explaining how the good microbiome in the gut of cattle will die after about 10 days of starvation, leaving the animal unable to extract energy and nutrition from food.
“We’re trying to sort out a sweet molasses fodder with all the minerals to activate the stomach bugs,” Mr Anderson said. “It’ll get them booming within a month rather than three months.”
The Andersons are also dosing cattle with anti-inflammatories to help relieve swollen hocks and sore joints from weeks of being mud-bound.
Mud has been a huge barrier to accessing stranded animals on all affected properties. “There’s a lot of scalded country. Turns into a silt-bank,” Mr Anderson said.
With such an extensive water catchment, bovine ephemeral fever, known commonly as ‘three day sickness’, is a concern of Dr Mark Schipp, Australian Chief Veterinary Officer.
Dr Schipp warned that 'three day' could create more casualties in surviving stock.
He said bovine ephemeral fever normally killed 1pc of affected cattle, but given the condition of the (flood-bound) cattle, they anticipated a lot more animals would die because of their inability to move to food and water.
At the start of the week, neither Dunluce nor Eddington cattle had been afflicted.
“We’ve got some mozzies around but we’re not seeing huge swarms of sandflies,” Kylie said, a fact repeated by Mr Anderson who lives 250 kilometres west.
“In the Belyando floods in 2008 there were swarms of sandflies on the cattle who were surrounded by water. We’re not seeing that here right now.”
Vaccination against three day sickness requires two needles given at least two weeks apart.
Logistically it’s impossible to do two full musters with such weak cattle, Kylie said.
“We’ve made a decision not to vaccinate anything we can’t ‘get in’,” she said. “We’ll just keep a close eye on them.”
Dr Schipp, also said he was also concerned about zoonotic diseases, such as botulism, being spread during carcase handling.
He reminded workers to wear protective gear and cover any open cuts when handling livestock.
“I think we just have to tackle one problem at a time,” Kylie said. “It’s still very raw. Everyone has been running on adrenaline. There is lot of heartache to come.”
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