How is climate change affecting Australian cattle?

Volunteer member of Vets for Climate Action, Regina Warne (BSc (Vet Bio)) was published in The Canberra Times on 2 April 2023, answering the question for Ask Fuzzy "How is climate change affecting Australian cattle?":

Cattle produce copious amounts of methane, an important greenhouse gas. This is why society is being encouraged to reduce their beef and dairy intake. However, while the Bessies and Daisys of the world have been targeted as a climate change villain, they are also the victims. 

Firstly, the more extreme weather events have caused mass fatalities. An estimated 600,000 cattle died as a result of the 2019 floods and more than 56,000 died the 2019/2020 bushfires whether as a direct result of the fires or because their injuries were so extensive that humane euthanasia was required. The number of cattle lost in 2022 due to the widespread flooding is not yet available but is predicted to have reached hundreds of thousands of cattle across Australia.

Secondly, with greater average temperatures, cattle are also feeling the burn. Heat stress is a large and growing concern in Australia, especially for feedlots which have a greater stocking density of cattle. Hot, humid conditions in susceptible animals can lead to decreased feed intake, lowered productivity and, in severe cases, death. It has also been found that the higher temperatures are reducing the fertility of Australian bulls. 

And finally, with the changing climate, we are seeing a change in the distribution of flies, ticks and mosquitoes, all of which can carry diseases. The introduction of these diseases to new areas can have devastating consequences. Treating and controlling such diseases in areas which had not historically seen them can be expensive and the production losses from infections and deaths vast. 

All this amalgamates to increased diseases, deaths and lowered productivity. Therefore climate change can jeopardise the viability of beef and dairy industries and we may no longer have the luxury of choosing between a plant-based or the traditional ‘meat and three veg’ diet. And we mustn't forget that cattle, among thousands of other animal species, are suffering due to our ineptitude in tackling climate change.  

We need to consider climate change as an affront to animal welfare, food security, the economy and to people’s livelihoods. In understanding how climate change is affecting most facets of today’s world, we acknowledge our role in getting to where we are today and motivated to do better for our tomorrow. What action today will you take to stand in solidarity with the fight against climate change: take the bus to work, write a letter to your local politician, start saving for solar panels? 

Whatever you do, do it for the safety of the planet. Then, you can have your steak and eat it too.