Livestock welfare reports to the South Australian RSPCA have tripled since last year due to poor weather conditions and lack of feed.

South Australia has been suffering through one of the driest starts to the year on record, leaving little for livestock to graze on in most agricultural regions.  

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Chief Inspector of the SA RSPCA Andrew Baker said most reports were made by neighbours on surrounding farms.

This month to date the organisation has received 59 livestock reports, far outnumbering the roughly 15 report total for June in 2023.

“It’s a huge increase,” Mr Barker said.

“A lot of them involve a lack of feeding. We have a significant issue with skinny cattle, skinny sheep.”

Livestock left to starve

The organisation has attended properties in recent months where livestock have been left to starve to death in fields.

“It’s really disappointing and it’s quite horrific to see it,” Mr Baker said.

“Some people will say it’s a fact of farming … but not where there’s a blatant mistreatment where livestock are not being fed.

“If they can’t afford to feed them, then they need to reduce their numbers so we don’t have starving livestock out there.”

The reports have been coming in from across the state, including generally resilient areas such as the South East and Adelaide Hills.

“It’s not a concern in just one particular area. It is quite widespread across the whole state,” Mr Baker said.

Livestock SA CEO Travis Tobin said the organisation was working with RSPCA SA to help contextualise the current situation. 

One of the recently reported animals to the RSPCA.(Supplied: RSPCA SA)

“It is really critical that regulators understand livestock production systems,” he said. 

“The health and welfare of animals go hand-in-hand with business profitability.

“Any reports of animal welfare are always concerning.”

Planning key

Livestock consultant with Talking Livestock Deb Scammell has been speaking at a series of nutrition workshops across the state, helping farmers with the current situation. 

“It’s a very sought-after topic at the moment … [farmers] don’t always feed budget long enough for a season like this,” she said.

Reports of underweight animals to the RSPCA are up in 2024.(Supplied: RSPCA SA)

“[Farmers are] locked and loaded with lambs and calves hitting the ground, and unfortunately some people are really starting to run out of supplementary feeds,” she said.

Ms Scammell said while most farmers had been doing the right thing, she had been concerned with the condition of some livestock.

“There’s higher than average mortality on some properties as you drive around,” she said.

The problem is made worse by “mass shortages” of supplies.

“It really is a bit of a critical story for anyone who didn’t retain enough feed to keep their livestock going,” she said.

In the 15 years Ms Scammell has been in the industry, she said conditions had never been this tough.

“There have been areas that have had tough droughts, but normally we have other areas that are good, where this is ridiculously widespread,” she said.

“Unfortunately, in the industry, there are people who still don’t supplementary feed much and don’t understand nutritional needs of stock, and they’re the people who are really coming unstuck this year.”

Tough decisions ahead

For any farmers who had concerns about their livestock, Ms Scammell suggested to review government resources, attend workshops, or reach out to a local livestock consultant.

Managing livestock complaints is a difficult task for the RSPCA, animals in poor health can often not be moved. (Supplied: RSPCA SA)

Mr Baker encouraged farmers to be realistic about the coming months.

“We’re not expecting any ground feed available in the near future, so really [farmers] need to ensure they stock up with their supplementary feed and also really make the hard decisions if they need to cut their numbers,” he said.

“It’s a hard call, but it is the [farmers’] responsibility.”

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