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How can I ensure my farm animals’ welfare during the COVID-19 pandemic?

It is vital that you make plans to ensure that your farm animals, are well-looked after if you need to self-isolate, become ill, or are admitted to hospital due to COVID-19.

It is your responsibility to protect the welfare of any animal in your care at all times.

Many people are responsible for animals who are not located at their place of residence and are not part of their employment. Animal owners also still need to access veterinary services or, for example, take their horse to a veterinary clinic for treatment. These situations can cause confusion and concern if you are unable to travel.

Whatever the case may be, you have a legal obligation to ensure that any animals under your care are provided with proper and sufficient food, water, shelter and veterinary treatment when necessary. It is an offence under the law to abandon an animal under your care.

If you normally care for animals not located at your place of residence but are unable to, then you must organise alternative arrangements for their care.

There is currently no evidence that domestic animals (pets or farm animals) or Australian wildlife play a role in the spread of the human novel coronavirus disease COVID-19.

Preparing for emergencies

You can take a number of steps to be well prepared for emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • If you are (supplementary) feeding your animals, make sure you have several weeks’ supply available.
  • If an animal is on any medication or preventative health care, document instructions for this (include dosages, method of administration, and how often to give the medication) in case someone else needs to care for them. Ideally, have a prescription for any medication in case you cannot look after your animals for longer than you had planned.
  • Ensure you have a means of transporting your animals should that be required.
  • Ensure your animals’ preventative health care (e.g., vaccinations and parasite control) is up to date.
  • As always, good hygiene is critical. You should wash your hands before and after being around or handling animals, their food, or supplies. Also ensure animal housing is clean, including feed/water troughs and any bedding in sheds or shelters.
  • Practice good on-farm biosecurity (for more information, see farmbiosecurity.com.au).
  • Have a plan in place in case you cannot care for your animals yourself. It is important to make these plans in advance.

Animal emergency care plan

  • See this article for more details.
  • Make a plan to cover the event that you need to be hospitalised, or cannot care for your animals for other reasons. Ensure that you have organised for a trusted family member, friend, or associate to be ready to provide your animals with proper and sufficient food, fresh water, shelter, daily welfare checks, and, when necessary, veterinary treatment. If this is not possible (for example, if the people who you had planned to have look after your animals are sick), you could contact other friends or relatives; if your animals are kept at another property, the owner or manager of the property they are kept; or your veterinarian to ask them to help you make arrangements to ensure your animals will be cared for.
  • Let your neighbours and next of kin know about the care arrangements you have made for your animals.
  • Make sure that you give the following to the person who is going to be caring for your animals:
    • A minimum of two weeks’ supplies for your animals, including food and any medications.
    • Written instructions on exactly how to care for your animals. For example, include the following:
  • Food – what, when, and how to feed your animals.
    • If your animals are on any medication or preventative health care, make sure you leave written detailed information on how and when it should be administered (include dosages, method of administration, and how often to give the medication). Ideally, have a prescription for any medication.
    • Your animals’ routines – for example, how often they are moved to a different paddock, and, e.g. for horses, how often and for how long they should be exercised and what grooming care they need.
    • Any medical records for your animals.
    • A contact list that includes your veterinarian and insurance company, if relevant, and anyone else who might be necessary or helpful for your animals’ care. Make sure you also leave any relevant medical history for your animals in the event one of them becomes ill or is injured.
  • See this article for more details.

There are some COVID-19 related situations that everyone with an animal should prepare for, to safeguard their animals’ welfare, including if:

  • You are practising physical distancing
  • You are self-isolating but are not sick or suspected of having COVID-19 infection
  • You or someone in your household is has or is suspected of having, COVID-19
  • You require hospitalisation due to COVID-19

What to do if you are practising physical distancing

One way for people to minimise risk to themselves, their animals, and their community from COVID-19 is physical distancing and good hygiene.

Make sure you wash your hands before and after handling your animals and, when practising physical distancing, wear an effective mask in accordance with health guidelines and, where possible, ensure you remain at least 1.5 metres away from other people.

If your animal needs the veterinarian, speak to the veterinary staff first about your situation, and follow the instructions and COVID-safe protocols of the veterinary clinic.

All government restrictions, physical distancing, and hygiene requirements must be adhered to.

You are in self-isolation but are not sick or suspected of having COVID-19 infection

People may be self-isolating because they have been directed to self-isolate or may have chosen to self-isolate because they are at high risk from COVID-19.

If you have been directed to self-isolate, you should check your relevant government website for current mandatory requirements before leaving your property during self-isolation, as state/territory government requirements for self-isolation may vary.

If you are self-isolating but are not sick or suspected of having COVID-19 infection, in addition to the general advice under social distancing provided above, you should minimise contact with animals other than your own at this time.

If your animals are kept at a property separate to where you live, it may not be appropriate to visit them whilst you are self-isolating. In this case, activate your plan for this situation – see the Animal Emergency Care Plan above.

You or someone in your family is sick with or suspected of having COVID-19

If you or someone in your family is sick with or suspected of having COVID-19, in addition to the general advice provided social distancing and self-isolation provided above, you should:

  • Stay away from others (humans and animals) if you are unwell.
  • Avoid or at least restrict contact with animals if you are unwell, including pets, farm animals and horses, just like you would around other people.
  • If you or your family cannot care for your animals yourself (including if you need to go to hospital), activate your plan for this situation – see the Animal Emergency Care Plan above.

You require hospitalisation due to COVID-19

If you require hospitalisation due to COVID-19, your animals will need to be cared for while you are in hospital. So, activate your plan for the situation where you cannot care for your animals yourself – see the Animal Emergency Care Plan above.

If you need to leave your home to care for your animals

If you have been directed to stay at home and self-isolate, if you are sick with or suspected of having COVID-19, or you require hospitalisation, and you normally care for animals not located at your place of residence, then you must organise alternative arrangements for their care. In this case, activate your plan for this situation – see the Animal Emergency Care Plan above.

Further information

If you are facing challenges caring for your animals, please get in touch with your local RSPCA to discuss options; we are here to offer support and help if possible.

Please note that this information has been prepared with the best and most current information available.

Also Read

Updated on March 28, 2022
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https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/how-can-i-ensure-my-farm-animals-welfare-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/

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