Biosecurity and Feed Safety During Drought

Bonnie Skinner, Manager Biosecurity and Extension, New South Wales

During drought, it may become necessary to buy in feed and fodder from further and further outside of your local region. Various feeds may also be donated, and unusual livestock feed such as fruit and vegetables or by-products may be sourced. However, bringing livestock feed onto your farm carries the risk of introducing weeds, pests and chemical contaminants. If you already have a biosecurity plan in place that addresses the introduction of animal feeds it is important to follow your plan. There are a number of steps that you can take to minimise the potential risks posed.

Request a Commodity Vendor Declaration

These declarations are essential tools to meet product integrity by assisting the livestock producer in assessing the risk of potentially harmful chemical residues, weeds or toxicity risks present in the feeds they are purchasing. You can provide a commodity vendor declaration form to your supplier for them to complete if they do not have one available.

Request a Commodity Vendor Declaration for all feeds intended to be fed to livestock. A Fodder Vendor Declaration may also be used for hay and silage. Enquire about the suitability of the product for feeding livestock if it has not been grown for the intention of feeding food-producing animals. Feed not grown for livestock consumption, such as cropping and vegetable waste or by-products, may have been treated with agricultural chemicals that pose a significant risk of residue transfer to livestock. Contamination of animal products as a result can compromise Australia’s domestic and international export market and food safety reputation.  The SAFEMEAT website provides risk assessment documents for a number of alternative feed and forage sources that may be used during drought.

Ruminant Feed Ban

It is illegal to feed restricted animal material (RAM) to ruminants in Australia. It is also a condition of our industry’s on-farm food safety program – Livestock Production Assurance. RAM includes meat, meat and bone meal, blood meal, poultry offal meal, feather meal, fishmeal or any other animal meals and manure. Tallow, gelatine, milk and milk products are exempt from the definition of RAM and may be used in ruminant feeds. Tallow includes used cooking oils provided they have been treated to remove RAM and should meet the National Standard for Recycling of Used Cooking Fats and Oils Intended for Animal Feeds. Feeds containing RAM will have a warning label on the bag “This product contains restricted animal material— DO NOT FEED TO CATTLE, SHEEP, GOATS, DEER OR OTHER RUMINANTS”. It is important to note the majority of pet food contains RAM but may not carry this label. The Animal Health Australia website has a checklist producers can use to ensure they are meeting the requirements of the ruminant feed ban.

Visually inspect feed

Visually inspect feed for pests and weeds when it arrives. While it is not always possible to pick up a problem or refuse delivered feed as a result of a detection when the feed is a necessity, being aware of what you will have to monitor and manage will help you to minimise the future impact. Soil conditions during drought prolong the viability of weed seeds which flourish when the drought breaks. Finding out what weeds are a problem in the location the feed was sourced from will also help you to be prepared, as well as knowing where the known herbicide resistant areas in Australia are.

Restrict the feeding out area

The more you are able to restrict the location of the feed and fodder being fed out, the easier it will be to detect and control future weed issues. Feeding from a sacrifice or drought lot paddock will minimise the spread of weed seeds to the rest of your property and make it easier to regularly check for germination and new plants when the drought breaks. If feeding out in paddocks it is advisable to feed out in the same location each time, but be aware that livestock can spread viable weed seeds from the original feed out area in their manure or on their bodies.  If herbicide resistant weeds have been identified as a risk, avoid feeding in or near cropping paddocks.

Conduct surveillance and manage

Weed seeds can remain viable in drought conditions and germinate rapidly following rain. Keep an eye out for germination of weeds or suspicious plants near feed-out areas and identify them as soon as possible. Knowing what species you are dealing with and how it spreads will help you choose the most effective control method. It is important to get on top of any new weeds before they are able to set seed. Surveillance for new plants will need to take place for at least two years after the drought has broken. Be mindful of weeds which are reportable in your state or territory.

Keep records

Under the LPA program, red meat producers must keep accurate livestock feeding records. This is detailed in element three of LPA, ‘Fodder crop, grain and pasture treatments and stock foods’. Part of this requires producers to take responsibility for all introduced feedstuffs given to their cattle, sheep or goats.

Store a copy of any commodity/fodder vendor declarations collected with the purchase of feeds and keep a record of any feed coming onto farm. This should include:

  • Type of stockfeed purchased, the origin or supplier of the stockfeed, the date received, and batch numbers (as relevant). If any residue analysis has been conducted a copy of the report also be stored.
  • The date and type of stockfeed livestock were fed and the quantity. Even if this is recorded in the top pocket notebook, it’s highly recommended best practice.

Accurate and detailed records are vital to substantiating declarations that are made on a National Vendor Declaration (NVD). Records also allow for a quick and more accurate trace back in the event of a problem.