News & Media

Avoid grazing practices that risk ingestion of lead in livestock

Released on

Released on:
Friday, 18. July 2014 - 9:30

Producers are reminded to keep stock away from any painted equipment or objects on farm that could contain lead, like lead batteries.

Department of Agriculture and Food veterinary officer Jenny Cotter said lead could be found in the paint of farm machinery or painted sheds, used sump oil, painted objects and equipment, vehicle battery dumps and even the farm tip.

“Livestock should not be used to control weeds around parked up machinery or allowed access to open sheds,” Dr Cotter said.

“If cattle and sheep do graze close to machinery and sheds, there is a high risk that they may ingest lead contained in the paint or in oil leaked from machines.

“Open sheds can also be a further source of lead as they usually contain stored or discarded oil and batteries.”

Dr Cotter said the risk of lead ingestion was higher in the colder months when feed was in short supply. 

“Hungry livestock will actively seek feed sources and ‘taste test’ by licking and chewing at items not normally considered feed,” she said.

“Young animals, who are more curious by nature, are the ones who will likely ingest lead should they come across batteries or painted objects. 

“Typically once lead is eaten, a ‘taste for lead’ is developed and animals keep returning, eventually taking in a toxic dose.”

Dr Cotter said it was illegal to sell animals suspected of ingesting lead for slaughter or have their milk enter the human food chain for a period of time because there was a risk that lead residues would be present in animal tissues and milk.

“Under the National Residue Survey program, animals at abattoir are randomly sampled and the owner of an animal detected with lead residues in excess of the maximum residue limit will be investigated,” she said.

“Preventing lead residues in meat and meat products is critical for human food safety and WA’s ongoing access to international markets.

“It is critical to take preventative steps by keeping stock away from all sources of lead including the less obvious ones like flaking paint or oil.”

Signs of lead poisoning in stock include animals becoming blind and unable to respond in the normal way, including being unable to walk. Some may also develop diarrhoea and go on to collapse and die. However, not all animals will show signs of lead poisoning; some may behave normally but still contain residues that pose a risk to human food safety.

For more information visit or contact your local department veterinary officer or private veterinarian.


Media contact: Jodie Thomson/Katrina Bowers, media liaison    +61 (0)8 9368 3937