Once again large areas of Australia are dry, too dry. And drought affects properties big and small. Liz Rymill looks at the pros and cons of sending your stock off property – or taking in someone else’s. And there are things of which you need to be aware.

In a tough season, limited pasture growth and many mouths to feed may lead to tough decisions and the potential selling of livestock.

But for some, agistment is a viable option and can result in a win for livestock owners and land managers.

WA Department of Primary Industries research officer Beth Paganoni said agistment was the movement of livestock from a property where there was little feed or water to another property where there are adequate supplies.

She said such an arrangement normally involves payment, but it may still be cheaper than hand feeding your animals.

The benefits from agistment are also found back on a home property, which can be given the opportunity to ‘spell’ – an opportunity for depleted pastures to recover and regenerate at a strategic time of year.

Additionally, Beth said “good feed on the agisting property and a suitable stocking rate may improve the condition, fertility and value of livestock”.

“Moving stock to somewhere which is slightly cooler in summer will also help to reduce heat stress on animals and help them maintain condition,” Beth said.

“But it is vital to have a written agistment agreement between the livestock owner and the person providing agistment,” she said.

Before entering into an agistment agreement, visit the agistment property to evaluate:

  • Fences and gates
  • Amount and quality of feed available in the paddocks.
  • Assess weeds and pest status.
  • Check the water for salinity and signs of algal bloom.
  • Stock handling facilities – can management requirements be carried out (drenching, unloading, drafting etc)?

Sometimes, agistment will also be the most cost-effective option for retaining livestock and regenerating a home property.

But other options should always be weighed up when making such a decision.

“One option is to sell the livestock and buy fresh stock when seasonal conditions and availability of feed and water allow,” Beth said.

“But re-stocking is more than likely going to cost more than the money you made from selling the original livestock so consider whether the likely difference in returns from any sale and the cost of re-stocking will be greater or less than the cost of other options,” she said.

Another option is to keep the livestock on your property in a small holding paddock and buy in fodder and concentrates to feed them in a containment scenario.

This can allow for a ‘feed wedge’ to establish and can be done at strategic times throughout the year, for certain categories of stock.

Drawing up a detailed agistment agreement is important.

“It is essential to draw up a written, binding agreement with the person offering agistment,” Beth cautioned.

“Along with the cost of agistment it will be necessary to record any requirements for livestock insurance, NLIS requirements, and the number of stock to be agisted (including any progeny) and for how long,” she said.

“As the livestock owner you still have full responsibility for their welfare and will be the person who stands to be charged if the stock is not adequately cared for.

“If you live a long distance from the agisting property you could negotiate that either the agisting property owner or manager takes responsibility for the livestock, or takes on a lesser responsibility of periodically checking the livestock and informing you when an issue arises.

“Another consideration is the question of whether you give the owner or manager of the agistment property the authority to call a veterinarian if they believe such a move to be warranted as well as the procedure to follow should there be a disease outbreak.”

As the stock owner you would be responsible for paying the veterinary bills.

If you are considering offering your own land for agistment, there are also a few factors to consider.

Under the Soil and Land Conservation Act 1945 you are responsible for the condition of your paddocks and for any degradation caused by overgrazing.

Therefore it is also in your interest to have a signed agistment agreement.

“In addition to the clauses of the agreement recommended above, the owner of the land will require the right to specify the number of stock that can be agisted,” Beth added.

“And just as importantly a further right to terminate or alter the agreement if pasture and soil degradation start to appear due to the grazing pressure,” she said.

“Both parties should agree on the period of notice required to terminate the agreement.

“If the owner of the livestock retains the responsibility for the condition of the livestock it will still remain in the interest of the person providing the agistment to monitor the condition of the livestock, pasture and land.”

The agreement should include whether there is provision to extend the period of agistment if all is going well.

Beth noted the agistment agreement should also include how and when agistment payments are to be made – they could be arranged monthly in advance or in arrears for example.

“The agreement should include the situation of non-payment of fees and stipulate whether the person providing the agistment has the right to assume ownership of agisted livestock to cover the unpaid fees,” she said.

Some agreements stipulate payment ‘in-kind’ whereby the livestock owner provides services to the owner of the agisting property such as erecting fences or building yards.

While some parts of the country continue to endure dry times, other areas have an abundance of feed, and for those with plenty of feed and no mouths to utilise it, agistment can be a way to bring in some cash-flow.

“For those producers with an excess of feed at the moment, the current high demand for agistment represents an excellent opportunity to generate cash flow without the risk of exposure to price changes or the cost of buying stock,” NSW Department of Primary Industries beef development officer Todd Andrews said.