Article by: Hari Yellina
Hundreds of animals have had to swim to escape or perish in the NSW Northern Rivers this week, but despite the horrific images emerging from the Richmond River’s record 2022 flood, there are some rays of light. Dairy farmer Paul Weir of Tuncester, near Lismore, NSW, has been astonished by the compassion of neighbours and complete strangers in assisting the family in getting back to milking. Despite standing in the dairy, which was built above record flood levels, half of the family’s Holstein cattle swam for their lives when the floodwaters surged early Monday. Around 150 heads remained in the yard and bravely weathered the storm.
The Weir family has retrieved about two-thirds of their original herd in the days since the floodwaters receded, and thanks to a generous offer of agistment from fellow Norco director Greg McNamara at Goolmangar, they can now be milked, while livestock carrier Alan Maloney arranged transport with Armfields to deliver the sodden stock to safer country. Meanwhile, hay is being transported from Northern Victoria, and further offers of agistment in Queensland have been offered. “It restores hope in humanity,” Mr Weir remarked. “In fact, it makes me feel a little overwhelmed. I’m not an emotional person, but whenever someone says something nice or sends me a supportive text message, it makes me cry.”
At the outset of the floods, Norco Rural field services consultant Bruce Lyle created a “Livestock and things lost and found” page on Facebook, which currently has approximately 1000 users sharing lost livestock and found, largely animals that have swum dozens of kilometres down the Richmond River. “Although my home was inundated, I was receiving worried calls from consumers. I was limited in my abilities. Because I couldn’t go out there physically, I had to rely on social media to spread the word.”
Jo Slade saved her rescue-horse, a 24-year-old 16.1 hand-high galloping gelding with a long history at the track, at Doonbah via Woodburn on the Mid-Richmond, when flood waters surged two metres beyond the previous record established in 1954. Swimming had been part of his training regimen before, but not like this. Ms. Slade, with the support of her son James, husband Garry Hansen, and their next-door neighbours, the McKenna family, worked together to save the horse, which was standing on a flood mound constructed for the 1974 event but had been so flooded that the water rose past his withers. “I put on a life jacket and dove in, grabbing him by the neck and swimming him to the verandah,” Ms Slade explained.
The next step for flood-affected livestock owners is to consider destocking a portion or all of their farm in order to allow saturated paddocks to recover with minimal interruption. Mr Lyle said he had been contacted by a reputable agency in Casino who said they had agistment in the west at fair prices ranging from $4 to $8 per week per head and that stock owners should contact their local agent. Vaccinations and drench are required for animals to be up-to-date against liver fluke and worms, while the threat of pneumonia is quite serious. If livestock owners require assistance, they should call their local veterinarian.