Food and Nutrition

Drought feeding is the hand feeding of livestock and occurs when sufficient pasture quantity or quality is not available to maintain the animal’s body condition (i.e. they lose weight). Typically, this situation occurs if the property is located in a drought declared area.

If the animals cannot be transported from the property to slaughter, sale or agistment then they must be hand fed to maintain their body condition. If feed cannot be purchased, then euthanasia has to be considered, as it is not acceptable to let the animal starve to death.

If you are in urgent need of additional feed or fodder for your livestock, search on market place websites (e.g. Gumtree), local papers and produce suppliers.

More information on feeding requirements for:

Supplementary feeding

Supplementary feeding is often used in grazing systems to help meet production requirements. It involves supplementing the animal's diet by feeding appropriate minerals, vitamins and trace elements. This may be a regular part of the production cycle to help match feed demand to feed supply or reserved for times of drought.

Supplementary feeding may be considered feeding cattle on a feed pad in a paddock. Maintaining grass cover in backgrounding and supplementary feeding paddocks is essential for both the animal's health, and managing the environmental impacts from these paddocks.

Meat and Livestock Australia has more information on backgrounding and supplementary feeding.

Drought and supplementary feed calculator NSW DPI


Cattle drink about 10% of their body weight in water a day, with higher or lower levels depending on temperature, feed moisture content and level of animal performance or lactation. As a guide, daily water intakes for beef cattle range from 30 to 70 litres and calves from 10 to 30 litres.

Water quality and quantity

Livestock owners need to regularly assess water quality and quantity to effectively plan and monitor water supplies for livestock. If water quality is poor, livestock may drink less than they need, or rarely, may stop drinking altogether. When animals drink less, they will eat less and lose condition, and if they are lactating, their milk production will reduce or cease.

Water quality and animal welfare

Failure to provide proper and sufficient water for livestock not only affects production, it may be an animal welfare offence. Livestock owners must provide enough good quality water to meet the welfare and production needs of the animal.

Provide animals with safe access to water sources. Muddy areas surrounding a water supply may lead to livestock being bogged as they attempt to reach water.

Withholding water

Plan well ahead if withholding water during yarding as preparation for transport or stock husbandry practices. Codes of practice for withholding periods for water give some guidance on normal withholding times. Provide extra care for vulnerable animals such as lactating or young stock, or in extreme hot weather. Withholding water should not affect the animal’s health during or after the withholding period.