Drought and drought management


Ratification Date: 01 Feb 2009


Drought must be recognised as a substantial risk factor in Australian animal production systems.

Enterprise risk management strategies must be based on contemporary animal health and welfare standards to ensure that:

  • animals are not subjected to starvation or lack of safe access to suitable drinking water; and
  • the local environment is not severely damaged.

Government drought strategies must ensure the welfare of animals and the protection of the environment.

Veterinarians are well placed to provide health and welfare risk management advice and compliance monitoring.


Drought has always been a feature of agricultural production in Australia. Some government policies may financially reward poor planning, and management of resources, including that of live animals. There are sound financial and animal welfare reasons for veterinarians to counsel their clients against dependency on transaction-based subsidies as a foil for financial losses during periods of low rainfall. Effective planning for dry times and drought will reduce the stresses placed on farmers and ensure sustainable farm operations. This may include feed budgeting and maintenance of safe watering points.

Under most animal welfare legislation in Australia, the onus is on the producer to dispose of stock or manage them appropriately during drought. Animals should be disposed of by sale, agistment or slaughter before they suffer from poor nutrition and become too weak to cope with transport or adverse weather. Standard recommendations exist for prioritising stock disposal. Stock slaughtered under a drought management strategy should be killed humanely. They should never be left to die of starvation.

Hand feeding or on-farm feedlots can also be used provided appropriate veterinary input is obtained to ensure the welfare of the animals.

Veterinarians should incorporate the principles of animal welfare, sustainable production and land care into livestock management and herd health programs. Stocking rates and cropping practices should be flexible and responsive to the insidious onset of drought. Overstocking in ’normal‘ seasons, which can produce ’local‘ drought situations, should be discouraged by consulting veterinarians.

Animal welfare should not be compromised by economic factors.

Information resources

Water and vegetation predictions, as well as historical records, are available from the Bureau of Rural Sciences www.nams.gov.au.

Other recommendations

Because Australia needs an efficient and internationally competitive agricultural industry, government assistance should encourage sustainable farming practices and effective farm management.

Resource management must be part of a drought preparation strategy and should include:

  • restoration of vegetation in areas where over-clearing has occurred or where cropping has been practised in marginal areas
  • research into cropping practices that are more suited to arid areas
  • better use of native grasses
  • integration of water management into all conservation and development projects
  • stocking rate management that includes management of all grazing herbivores, including native species (for example kangaroos), and control of such pest species as rabbits, feral goats, horses etc.

Other relevant policies and position statements

Sustainable use of pastoral land

Date of ratification by AVA Board February 2009