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Agistment - Be aware

STOCK agents in the south-west have been inundated with requests for agistment for stock from up north and interstate.

I caught up with Port Fairy Veterinary’s, Charlie Blackwood, to get all the information on what an agister needs to consider before taking stock from another property onto their farm.

In terms of animal health – what should the agister be conscious of when bringing stock in from up north?

WHENEVER animals are moved from one farm to another, there is the possibility of the transmission of disease.

With the movement of animals from further away, there is the chance of diseases not known in this area to be introduced.

I would advise checking the biosecurity website (, to get some guidance on the general principles of control.

It is important to find out the health status of the animals before allowing agistment.

As a general rule, stock should be quarantined before mixing with animals from other farms, until the health status of the animals is known or is clear.

Transporting animals, especially if they are already stressed, can cause diseases to develop – for example salmonella.

So, keep the animals separate for one to two weeks at least.

Specific diseases which could be introduced include:

  • Internal parasite (worms), which are resistant to a wide range of drenches.

While conditions further north have been dry, this can select for resistant worms, as the only worms which survive are the resistant worms in the animal.

Worm resistance in sheep has been a problem for a number of years, but resistance in cattle is an increasing problem.

On arrival stock should be drenched with a drench with multiple active ingredients – for example Q drench in sheep, or Trifecta in cattle, and kept quarantined.

  • Johnes Disease – sheep and cattle.

Johnes disease has less restrictions these days, but I would avoid introduction of the disease by checking the health status of the farm

  • Virulent footrot in sheep.

Sheep may be carrying the disease, but not showing signs.

Consider checking some feet when the sheep arrive as well as checking the health status of the sheep.

  • Lice -Lice are species specific, so cattle lice do not infect sheep.

But introducing lice to otherwise clean sheep is an issue.

Check sheep on arrival, although light infections can be hard to detect.

Keeping the sheep quarantined will avoid spread.

How long does it take for the stock to adjust to new feed?

THE animals introduced for agistment will not have been fed grass for a long time and the gut takes time to adjust.

As a general rule, it takes two to three weeks for the gut to adjust to new feeds – but the time may depend on what the animals have been fed prior to transport.

Some animals may have been on grain or pellets, while others may have been surviving on rough hay and straw.

In some animals which have been on poor feed for an extended time, it seems to take longer for the gut to adjust.

Are there any precautions that can be taken with stock before they arrive?

WHEN animals arrive, they will often be hungry – both from the tough conditions at home and then the transport.

Hungry animals will sometimes rush out and eat feeds they would not normally eat and plants can be toxic.

For example, capeweed which may grow around the yards and not be controlled can cause nitrite poisoning.

Take care when unloading the animals and consider feeding some hay to limit the initial hunger.

Should they have feed restrictions while they adjust?

WHILE it will be tempting to try to give poor animals lots of good feed in a hurry, a slow introduction onto good feed and a moderate restriction may be wise.

If you have hay, feed some to limit hunger.

Alternatively, don’t immediately put the stock on to the best feed, but put them onto an average paddock and let them eat it down before moving to better pastures.

What signs or symptoms should we look out for to indicate an animal is in stress?

ANIMALS may have some mild scour when they first eat the better pasture.

As long as the animals are still eating and look bright and active, then this is usually just the gut getting adapted to the new diet.

This should settle down as the gut adjusts.

The stock can be moved to less lush pasture and even given hay if a large percentage of animals are showing signs.

However, if the stock appear dopey or reluctant to eat, I would be more concerned.

There are a number of diseases which introduced stock may suffer from. These include:

Acidosis or carbohydrate overload: If the stock are put on to very lush pasture without a slow introduction, they could get scours, however, this is usually more of an issue with introducing grain.

Unless severe, some extra hay or dry feed will overcome the issue.

If the scour is severe and the animals appear slow or even “drunk”, contact your local vet.

Salmonella: While uncommon, animals can get a gut infection following transport and changes in feed.

If the scour contains blood and/or the animal is lethargic and sick, then contact your local veterinarian.

Clostridial diseases: Clostridial diseases cause sudden death and can be an issue when stock receive better feed.

Check animals have had two vaccinations with 5 in 1 prior to transport.

Coccidiosis: If the animals are young (usually under six months), with a high stocking rate and under stress, they can get a gut infection which causes straining and blood in the faeces.

Treatment is usually relatively straight forward but does require a veterinary diagnosis.

Pneumonia: Stock can get a lung infection, especially when stressed, in close confinement and transported.

Dusty conditions can also contribute to the problem.

If stock are struggling to breathe, or are sick with a nasal discharge, talk to your vet.

Cold weather stress: If stock are still poor, be aware they will be more prone to exposure and cold stress.

Even in summer, south-west Victoria can produce days of wind, cold and rain.

Make sure poor animals have sufficient shelter.

For more information Dr Blackwood can be contacted at the Port Fairy Veterinary on 5568 6222 from 8.30am–4.30pm, Monday to Friday.

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