Boyanup Saleyards: Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development comments were ‘hearsay’

Dr Don FinlayCountryman
Cattle packed tight during a store sale at Boyanup Saleyards.
Camera IconCattle packed tight during a store sale at Boyanup Saleyards. Credit: Supplied/Don Finlay

Dear Countryman,

Thanks for bringing to publication the comments from a Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development spokesperson (Heat stress not cause of death, Countryman, 17/03) to the public.

I believe this title and the DPIRD statement suggest no deaths from heat occurred at the Boyanup Saleyards in during January and February 2022.

There was an investigation into one death — on February 4, 2022 — according to the spokesperson.

I would suggest DPIRD launched an investigation with “a private veterinarian” because this department no longer employs their own veterinarians (District Veterinary Officers) to query deaths at saleyards that may involve violation of the Animal Welfare Regulations 2020.

This is one of the strongest regulations in Australia.

This was a complaint of a welfare issue loss that may have been due to heat stress, similar to others.

Very competent veterinarians are within this DPIRD to conduct investigations and autopsy if required.

Why was this not done on February 4?

I would like a “DPIRD spokesperson” to explain the handling of the complaint.

A second concern I have is the reporting by DPIRD publicly, to the Countryman, of a second party comment on the cause of death. This is commonly regarded as “hearsay”.

Where is the “private veterinarian’s” report and evidence of “acute musculoskeletal injury”? What is meant by such terminology? Is it a broken bone? Is it a ruptured gastrocnemius tendon? Is it a severe stifle joint injury?.

What was the “normal interaction between animals” at the yards? Did the animal die of this “musculoskeletal injury”? Was this animal shot?

There are quite a few questions raised. Does “normal interaction between animals on your farm result in death?

Why is such interaction considered “normal”?

How many times does it need to occur at a saleyard to be “not normal?”.

Why does DPIRD not explain if the animal was destroyed (by whom and how, and at what time?)?

Some freedom of information requests are now before DPIRD to answer some questions and provide documentation on the vague hearsay provided to Countryman.

Further, in the article the DPIRD spokesperson claims inspectors attended on January 21 and February 18 and found “no issues were raised”.

Well, the issues do not have to be raised. Full stop.

The 2020 Regulations are mush. There is no requirement of any sales management at anysale yard to report loss, injury or illness to any entity, let alone DPIRD.

DPIRD is not mandated to spend time on weekly visits or set hours at saleyards. This loophole is large enough to drive a road train through.

DPIRD did not see any issues either, I suppose. What time did they attend January 21 and February 18?

DPIRD has been a bit more on-site due to “allegations of cattle dying of heat stress at three recent sales” (if you wish to hear the allegations, see February Capel Shire meeting question time, Capel Shire YouTube channel).

Let me explain the “allegations” to refute the statements by DPIRD of “no deaths observed or reported”.

February 18:

At 4pm, a weaner was observed by a producer waiting to load in the rear loading area at Boyanup Saleyards. The animal was down and unable to rise. Sale agents were observed bucketing water on said animal. The witness was told it was heat stress. If it did not die, it sounds like there was nothing to investigate according to the statement made by DPIRD if they saw that animal. Again: what time was DPIRD there?

On this same day, same sale, a sell pen of cattle was marked by agents as they were under heat stress. It is of public record, recorded from the auctioneer’s microphone, that these cattle were marked. There were many witnesses. These animals were sold at the end of the sale at considerable discount. Under the regulations of 2020, these would be classed as “unfit for sale”. What happened? Well, regulations with no requirement of reporting of illness to any entity; no knowledge of said regulations.

January 21

A witness was waiting to load cattle at 4pm and observed a dead 400kg black steer at the rear loading area. “What’s going on here the witness asked?” This witness was told it died of heat stress by employees.

Witnesses can be called if it is a legal matter.

Stories published in the media regularly show photos of a cow sale with two and three cows per pen on a cloudy, cool day.

But store cattle sales on 35-44 degree days look like the attached photo: packed so tight they cannot move to get to a tiny water pot in the corner of the pen.

I am not anti-industry. I am pro-industry. Let’s up the game at Boyanup before the operation implodes.

It is 2022. I was told by an employee of the yards on January 19: “But Don, it’s always been this way”.

There is a documented case in WA of a veterinarian being charged and taken to court for not providing shade for their horses by the RSPCA.

Maybe this agency needs access to saleyards rather than DPIRD.

A recent complaint about DPIRD mishandling assistance to burned sheep (“Woolgrower says State did not act fast enough to help”, Countryman, 24/03) is of concern. It was termed by a “spokesperson “ as a “miscommunication”.

Before next summer, mitigation strategies need to have occurred.

There should be no store sales later than 9am, with all cattle loaded out by 1pm. Other States do this.

Sale cancellations should be based on five-day forecasting of heat. Other States do this.

There needs to be shade cloth installed over the entire facility and more pen space to meet regulations.

If that means smaller yardings and an extra sale weekly, then so be it.

Should DPIRD remove itself from the compliance game?

Bad business decisions are being made at this location. But money spent on animal welfare is money gained.

Harvest Road Group has embraced this concept, with multiple strategies for welfare announced during the past year.

Temple Grandin consults regularly with them; she helped with the designs at the new Koojan Downs feeding facility — and there are shades there. And so there should be at all intensive cattle facilities.

Ask any producer where their cattle are by 11am on a stinking hot summer day.

Answer: in the shade. Animals seek shade.

Why are the sheep saleyards at Boyanup covered and the cattle yards can not be?

Farm Weekly recently reported the cattle turnover at Boyanup Saleyards as over $43 million in 2021.

Let’s fix stupid or someone is going to remove the involved stakeholders’ ability soon.

By the way, humans require shade, especially the elderly who are still a vibrant part of this industry and attend sales.

Workers there deserve shade and safety. Full stop.

Dr Don Finlay,

Bunbury

ENDNOTE: Don Finlay is a veterinarian who works exclusively with cattle.

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