Haven for horses as fire raged

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Western Australian Meat Industry Authority animal welfare officer Dwayne Stone has turned his attention to feeding horses at the Muchea Livestock Centre, as the designated evacuation facility welcomed animals endangered by the bushfires to a safe haven.
Camera IconWestern Australian Meat Industry Authority animal welfare officer Dwayne Stone has turned his attention to feeding horses at the Muchea Livestock Centre, as the designated evacuation facility welcomed animals endangered by the bushfires to a safe haven. Credit: Countryman

The Muchea Livestock Centre became an emergency evacuation area for animals and their owners last week as a result of the Wooroloo bushfire.

WA Meat Industry Authority chief executive Greg Lott cancelled Monday’s cattle sale at the centre to make room for up to 300 horses to help people in a state of emergency.

It was the first weekly cattle auction to be cancelled in at least a decade.

Mr Lott said more than half the cattle pens had been used to hold horses — ranging from miniature ponies to larger Clydesdales.

As horses and other animals started filling the pens early last week, Mr Lott said WAMIA would welcome any other livestock that needed safe haven from the fires.

The saleyards also became a temporary home for a handful of sheep, alpacas and miniature donkeys.

While the animals arrived last Monday, they were all cleared out by Sunday afternoon in time for Tuesday’s sheep sale.

Mr Lott said WAMIA recognised there would be business implications from cancelling the weekly cattle sale, held each Monday except around Christmas.

But he said animal welfare concerns overrode any disruption.

“These are extreme times. We have had no negative feedback,” he said.

“We put animal welfare ahead of commercial reality.”

As donated hay and other feed rolled into the facility, WAMIA rostered additional staff to care for the animals.

WAMIA animal welfare officer Dwayne Stone said the cattle saleyard pens were the best option for the horses.

“We worked with the horse owners on the animals’ individual diets and the facility’s veterinarian was on hand to give a health status on every animal,” he said.

“Most horses were from Shady Hills, Bullsbrook, West Swan and The Vines.”

Bullsbrook horse owner Jo Pratley and her son Henry, 16, with their Buckskin gelding, Salt River Sage, the trio taking refuge at the Muchea Livestock Centre as a result of the bushfires.
Camera IconBullsbrook horse owner Jo Pratley and her son Henry, 16, with their Buckskin gelding, Salt River Sage, the trio taking refuge at the Muchea Livestock Centre as a result of the bushfires. Credit: Countryman

Bullsbrook horse owner Jo Pratley and her son Henry, 16, brought their four horses to the centre last Tuesday after receiving an emergency message from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

“We could see a red glow from our property,” Ms Pratley said.

“We were very grateful of the Muchea facility to take us on.”

Henry said he was very pleased to have a shirt on his back, donated by the Geraldton community.

“We didn’t have time to take many belongings with us,” he said.

Henry was on his way to attend WA College of Agriculture — Harvey on the day before the fire took hold, but those plans were dashed when the State Government announced school would be delayed by a week because of the five-day COVID-19 lockdown.

The Muchea Livestock Centre became an emergency evacuation area for animals and their owners.
Camera IconThe Muchea Livestock Centre became an emergency evacuation area for animals and their owners. Credit: Countryman

Both Mrs Pratley and her son slept in their horse float at Muchea until Saturday.

“We were well taken care of, with many donations of food and clothing,” Mrs Pratley said.

They were both delighted to hear the pitter-patter of raindrops on the Muchea tin roof and began their journey home on Saturday morning.

“It was a huge relief to go home and all was good there — Henry is back at school now,” Mrs Pratley said.

With the last horse leaving Muchea on Sunday afternoon, Mr Lott confirmed on Monday the cattle sale would remain cancelled.

“We will continue the cattle sale next Monday,” he said.

The sheep sale, held this Tuesday, was conducted as planned.

The Royal Agricultural Society of WA also made its facilities available to a range of animals, as well as families who could use the grounds for caravans or bunk rooms.

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