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Lessons for livestock management during a bushfire

Hot temperatures are expected this week, no significant rainfall is forecast, and it’s again timely for farmers to be thinking about bush fire risk, and taking precautions to reduce the threat to livestock and other assets.

“Many landholders who have been through fire emergencies in the past have learnt valuable lessons about livestock management which are worth reviewing in 2016,” said Central Tablelands Local Land Services Regional Vet, Bruce Watt.

The Rural Fire Service (RFS) is the key agency in charge of bush fire management, while Local Land Services is a support agency to the RFS and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

“Back in 2013 I worked with farmers in the Bigga district in the wake of severe bushfires in that region,” said Bruce Watt.

“There is much useful advice that can be gleaned from the experience of those who’ve been through fire events in the past.”

“Fortunately stock losses in the Bigga event had been kept to a minimum by local stockmen, helped by good luck but also by good management.”

“It was due to good luck that there was time to move stock to safe areas at night.  However it was good management that safe areas had been prepared, and landholders had stock management skills on hand and dogs to muster at night.”

“A prime example of that good management was the experience of Jim Eldridge who was managing the property, ‘The Decca,’ north of Bigga during the 2013 fire event.”

“About 1000 acres of the property were burnt, but Jim and his offsiders were able to muster 1800 sheep in five mobs during the night and another 2200 in four mobs at first light to keep them safe from the fire.  All were boxed into one mob in yards around the wool shed.”

“The country they had to muster was not a flat open paddock.  This was difficult country and their achievement was impressive.”

“Jim told me he believed the keys to their success were knowing the country and having good dogs.”

“Also critically important in any fire emergency is having a prepared safe area such as a heavily grazed paddock or accessible sheep yards.”

“Stock confined in a small area are easier to protect with firebreaks or with modern fire fighting techniques such as aerial bombardment.”

“However, Jim and others commented that windbreaks of trees, so useful at other times, can incinerate yarded stock in a fire, whereas a few scattered trees within the yards would not pose the same fire hazard.”

“Fortunately for Jim, the sheep were on the camp so were easy to find, aided by a spotlight.  The spotlights were useful for illuminating the way but sometimes risked hindering and dazzling stock.”

“Jim told me that the trade-in value of his dogs increased substantially that evening, with the downside that he took some ribbing for showing an extraordinary ability to muster stock at night.”

“Bush fires will always be a risk on the central and southern tablelands especially if we experience good pasture growth in the winter and spring followed by a hot dry summer.”

“Fortunately, there is a great deal of good advice available landholders to plan and to take precautions to reduce fire risk.”

“There is a wealth of information on the Rural Fire Service, including detailed advice on preparing a Bush Fire Survival Plan, and I think we can all learn from good stockmen who have handled adversity in the past,” said Bruce.

Central Tablelands Local Land Services is supporting the RFS message to landholders to prepare a fire plan that includes a strategy for livestock and pet management.

With regard to fire management, Local Land Services is a support agency to the RFS and the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

For more information on planning ahead the RFS Farm FireWise Checklist and Action Plan can be found on the RFS website

To report a fire emergency call Triple Zero (000).  If you are deaf or have a speech or hearing impairment call 106.   The RFS Bush Fire Information number is 1800679737.

Media enquiries: Kylie Krause | 0439608370

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