Dead stock a looming health hazard

Defence Force and state government in dead stock disposal discussions


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Officials are discussing how to handle the situation

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The state government and the Australian Defence Force are developing plans to guide the disposal of hundreds of thousands of dead cattle left in the wake of devastating floods. 

With temperatures rising again following last week's deluge, Agriculture Minister Mark Furner has warned that carcasses left to rot in the sun could pose a health risk. 

"The next stage of this exercise is carcass disposal," he said. 

"The disposal of carcasses is paramount at present. 

"As it heats up it is becoming a biosecurity matter."

Mr Furner said biosecurity officials would be travelling with him to north western Queensland to provide advice on cattle burials and disposals.

Producers have been calling on the Defence Force to assist with the burial of dead cattle, with some estimates suggesting as many as 500,000 head of stock have died in the disaster.

Beef producer Ren Field, who has cattle properties near Winton, has been helping to identify volunteers to help with ongoing relief efforts in the area. 

She said there was definitely a role the Defence Force could play as producers came to grips with the sheer number of stock they would have to bury. 

"One of the biggest things is going to be a need for machinery," she said.

"Most stations have their own machinery, but it's a big job and they're going to need more."

Getting fresh water to weak cattle was also becoming an issue, she said. 

"What's ridiculous is that some cattle are dying from dehydration now. Because the water is now seeping into the ground, it's so thick that the ones that have survived - they can't walk to a water trough. 

"Our biggest problem now is making sure there's accessible water on the property." 

Ms Field estimated that about 70 per cent of her 1000-strong herd could have died in the flood, although she has not yet been able to reach the property herself to assess the scale of damage.

Queensland chief veterinary officer Dr Allison Crook said the state government was working with the Defence Force to come up with a plan for stock burial and disposal. 

"We are working with our partner agencies, including the Australian Defence Force, to develop plans for the appropriate disposal of deceased livestock," she said. 

"In most cases that is going to look like a burial in a pit. However, the disposal is often context specific." 

People disposing of dead stock should avoid direct contact and follow appropriate guidelines, such as burying them away from water sources, Dr Crook said. 

Although the extent of stock deaths will not be known until flood waters recede, peak industry body AgForce has estimated that hundreds of thousands of cattle may have died. 

The Australian Agricultural Company said almost 30,000 cattle may have died on Wondoola Station in the Gulf of Carpentaria. 

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