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Fires ravage Northcliffe farms

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

Livestock fatalities and property damage have been reported in the wake of the State's biggest-ever bushfires.

Northcliffe cattle farmer Sam Ditri, who lost two cows and five week-old calves, said he had tried his best to protect his livestock, but the changing winds had been too difficult to predict.

"I had the calves in long grass by our creek when the wind changed suddenly and it was too late to wake them up," he said.

"Three got burned to death when the grass caught alight, and one died after struggling about 50 yards before collapsing.

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"The fifth calf turned up dead later on, most likely from smoke inhalation. The two cows also died later from burns."

After the fatalities, Mr Ditri said he had no choice but to shift some of his livestock from the property.

"I have only 10 heifers and 37 mothers remaining," he said.

"Twenty-seven have been sent to my brother's property because I don't have enough feed for them all," Mr Ditri said.

Many dairy cows may have sustained burnt udders from coming into contact with smouldering pastures.

The disturbing news comes after other farmers' stories of destruction and chaos caused by the fire, which blazed through more than 88,000 hectares of land, which threatened many South West towns. Department of Fire and Emergency Services say fire has now been contained, but bushfire advice remains for Northcliffe in the Shire of Manjimup.

The blaze has so far claimed two houses and five sheds, but local farmers say there has also been significant damage to infrastructure, as well as the impact on business, which is expected to run into millions of dollars.

Stock agent Cole Thexton said farmers with livestock would be facing a difficult situation for a long period of time in the wake of the fires.

"The effect on production will be substantial until the season breaks and we get some rain, which is still months away," he said.

Mr Thexton said there was a desperate need for hay to replace the burnt-out pastures.

"There will be a lot of dry stock resulting from the lack of pasture and the owners will probably have no choice but to let them out for agistment if they don't have enough food to give them for production."

Meanwhile, other Northcliffe farmers have reported significant disruption and losses as a result of the fires.

Dairy farmers Wally and Julie Pettink have said their farm remains without power and phone connection after the fire.

The Pettinks have taken a heavy toll from the disaster, losing a house, the majority of their pastures and silage rolls, as well as kilometres of fencing, at their farm located 10km east of Northcliffe.

Mrs Pettink said it was a daily struggle milking 300 cows on their property, as well as attending to 700 to 800 cows.

The bushfire has also damaged some fencing at the region's largest dairy, Bannister Downs.

Cattle farmer Eric Pratt, who normally runs 65 breeding cattle, said he lost fences and about 100 acres of pasture on his Northcliffe property.

"We were very fortunate when the fires came through that we had a large contingent of fire trucks close by which took over the farm," he said.

"At this stage I've got hay but that won't last very long."

Fellow Northcliffe cattle farmer Noel Makin said he had to cut short a Darwin holiday when he heard the fires were threatening his property.

"By the time I got here from Darwin on Tuesday the area was blocked off, but I managed to access my property from the back way I know," he said.

Mr Makin said like his neighbours, his fences and pasture had been all but burnt out.

"I've lost more bore pump at my dam and also all my southern blue gums on the property, but I moved most of my livestock from the property just before Christmas and only have six cows with calves at the moment, which has turned out be very fortunate," he said.

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