Good feed on the agisting property and a suitable stocking rate may improve the condition, fertility and value of livestock. Moving stock to somewhere which is slightly cooler in summer will also help to reduce heat stress on animals and help them maintain condition.
It is vital to have a written agistment agreement between the livestock owner and the person providing agistment.
Points to consider before agisting livestock
Visit the agistment property
You should visit the agistment property before you decide to move any livestock. This will give you the chance to evaluate several factors including:
- Condition of fences and gates — will they hold your stock securely?
- Amount of feed available in the paddocks. Will it be enough to last the term of the agistment agreement? Will you need to arrange supplementary feeding?
- Could there be problems due to a change in pasture composition and therefore a change in diet?
- Could there be problems (for example parasites, livestock diseases or weeds) associated with the new environment that could return with the livestock when you bring them home?
- Check the water for salinity and signs of algal bloom. Will the water be of sufficient quality and quantity?
- Are there adequate stock handling facilities (yards) for you to access to off-load and reload your livestock and to carry out routine management procedures such as checking, injecting or drenching stock?
Consider the total cost of the agistment
You should always consider the total cost of agistment, which includes livestock transport, agistment fees and length of agistment, costs of regular visits to check on the livestock, livestock insurance and legal fees in drawing up the agistment agreement.
Compare the cost of agistment with other options
One option is to sell the livestock and buy fresh stock when seasonal conditions and availability of feed and water allow.
Re-stocking is likely to cost more than the money you made from selling the original livestock. Consider whether the likely difference in returns from any sale and the cost of re-stocking will be greater or less than the cost of other options.
Another option is to keep the livestock on your property in a small holding paddock and buy in fodder and concentrates to feed them.
The cost of each option will vary from year to year according to the conditions.
Draw up an agistment agreement
It is essential to draw up a written, binding agreement with the person offering agistment. Along with the cost of agistment it will be necessary to record any requirements for livestock insurance, NLIS requirements, the number of livestock to be agisted (including any progeny) and for how long.
As the livestock owner you still have full responsibility for their welfare and will be the person who stands to be charged if the stock is not adequately cared for.
If you live a long distance from the agisting property you could negotiate that either the agisting property owner or manager takes responsibility for the livestock, or takes on a lesser responsibility of periodically checking the livestock and informing you when an issue arises.
Another consideration is the question of whether you give the owner or manager of the agistment property the authority to call a veterinarian if they believe such a move to be warranted as well as the procedure to follow should there be a disease outbreak.
As the livestock owner, you would be responsible for paying the veterinary bills.
If you are the person offering agistment
Concern for the condition of your pastures and paddocks
Under the Soil and Land Conservation Act 1945 you are responsible for the condition of your paddocks and for any degradation caused by overgrazing.
Therefore, it is in your interest to have a signed agistment agreement. In addition to the clauses of the agreement recommended above, the owner of the land will require the right to specify the number of stock that can be agisted and a further right to terminate or alter the agreement if pasture and soil degradation start to appear due to the grazing pressure.
Both parties should agree on the period of notice required to terminate the agreement. If the owner of the livestock retains the responsibility for the condition of the livestock it will still remain in the interest of the person providing the agistment to monitor the condition of the livestock, pasture and land.
The agreement should include whether there is provision to extend the period of agistment if all is going well.
Fees and payment
The agistment agreement should include how and when agistment payments are to be made. Payments could be arranged monthly in advance or in arrears.
The agreement should include the situation of non-payment of fees and stipulate whether the person providing the agistment has the right to assume ownership of agisted livestock to cover the unpaid fees.
Agreements can stipulate payment in-kind whereby the livestock owner provides services to the owner of the agisting property such as erecting fences or building yards.
Sale of livestock to the person providing the agistment
The situation could arise that the cost of transport to return the livestock to their home property is greater than the livestock are worth.
So, an additional clause to the agreement might include whether at the end of the agistment period the parties would or would not consider sale of the livestock to the agisting property.
National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) considerations
Western Australia (WA) has a comprehensive, mandatory livestock identification and ownership system. All livestock owners within WA must be registered and their stock identified in accordance with the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management (Identification and Movement of Stock and Apiaries) Regulations 2013 (BAM (IMSA) Regulations).
Any movement of cattle, sheep or goats (one or more animals) between properties with different Property Identification Codes (PICs) must be recorded on the NLIS database. Whenever you move livestock (except horses), you need to complete a waybill and send it with the animals.
You will need to register a separate PIC for the agistment property (no fee) and transfer stock on the NLIS database as required.
Agistment can be a serious undertaking with legal implications. However, entered into carefully and in the form of a written agreement, it can be a beneficial livestock management technique in dry times.