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Destocking Strategy Case Study

Tips for a tough season: destocking strategies – northern Australia

20 November 2015

This is the fifth part in our series on planning for tough seasons.

Destocking decisions can be difficult. Variation in feed availability and price, weather, markets, and access to agistment means that every situation is different.

There is no one size fits all approach to destocking, so forward planning will remove some of the stress at difficult times.

Roger Sneath, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Senior Extension Officer (beef), said sound business plans with a pasture focus can influence how well producers manage drought.  

“It is important to have a business plan prepared well ahead of time which includes a drought strategy,” he said.

“The business plan sets the direction for the business. This helps as you can check if potential decisions are working in line with the business goals or against them.”

In Northern Australia, preparing a dry season forage budget is one of the most useful strategies for planning ahead. This helps managers match stock numbers to pasture availability and guide destocking decisions. (Check out Col Paton showing how it is done in these four videos.)

Making More From Sheep Queensland Coordinator Alex Stirton, an extension officer (sheep) with the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, based in Charleville, added that a written plan will help future decision making.

“It is not wise or economical to make a decision or plan while under pressure, so plan early, write it down, set dates and stick to them – don’t alter the plan even if it’s forecast to rain in the near future,” Alex said.

“Include an external advisor – such as a stock agent, extension officer, rural financial counsellor or farm consultant – and all business members to help make a plan and destocking strategy.”

Tips for developing a destocking plan, including the critical questions to ask, are:

1.    Set a pasture budget: Assess end of summer pasture, water and stock. Adjust stock numbers to match available pasture and water. Consider requirements of different classes of stock; lactation increases nutritional needs significantly for those animals with lambs or calves at foot. Check out these budgeting tools for beef and sheep.
2.    Weigh up all the options: Identify what you want to do – feed or not to feed, agist, sell – and consider factors such as:

  • Feeding stock: How long until the next likely significant rain event?  Are funds available to feed stock right though to a significant change in conditions? Are people available/capable to feed stock through? How will feeding stock impact on pastures?
  • Alternative land: Is feed, agistment or leased land available elsewhere which could be an option for your core breeder herd/flock or weaners that need to at least maintain live weight?
  • Selling: Are animals fit to load? Monitor the market for potential opportunities to destock.

3.    Set dates: What time of the year are you most likely get a large rain event? Plan towards that date, don’t plan that out-of-season storms will save you. Make a destocking plan early depending on available feed, composition of the herd/flock. Put the critical selling dates on the calendar (based on land type, pasture type and season) and sell the animals as these dates come along.


If destocking is the sound option from economic, environmental and animal health perspectives, the first step is to ’triage’ your flock.

“Producers need to prioritise which class of sheep are most important to their business,” Alex said.

“This could mean culls, dry or old animals go first. Pregnancy scanning is a critical management tool to identify dry ewes. Next might be weaners, followed by animals that are less productive based on individual business goals.”


Roger said a similar approach applied to destocking cattle.

“Remove the highest risk and least productive cows such as pregnancy tested empty and late calving cows, old cows, cull heifers, poor temperament and poor doers. If some stock are nearly finished it may be worthwhile to production feed to reach the specification, so do the sums," he said.

The FutureBeef website provides calculators to evaluate different scenarios, such as putting cattle in a feedlot or comparing the cost of feeding or selling stock and buying back later.

Stress management

While there are economic, animal health and environmental factors which should be considered when making destocking decisions, it is also important to manage how people in the business – including yourself – handle what can be a very emotional and stressful time.

“It is critical to take a break from the property – even just to go to an event in town – to step away from the business and clear your head,” Alex said.


  • Managing Drought: This guide is a good source of drought planning information.
  • Feeding and managing stock during drought: Links to resources such as drought feeding alternatives, evaluating supplements, early weaning and moving stock during drought.
  • FutureBeef: This website contains information on drought strategies as well as links to tools to guide producers through profitable and sustainable enterprise-management strategies.
  • CliMate and Rainman Streamflow: Use these tools to evaluate the probability of receiving useful rain at different times of the year.
  • FORAGE: This tool is located on The LongPaddock website and provides climate and pasture condition information at the individual property level.
  • Grazing Land Management: This course guides producers through management practices to help maintain and improve land condition, such as determining a dry season forage budget and wet season spelling.
  • Drought preparedness checklist: This checklist outlines the important issues that should be considered with drought management.
  • Leading Sheep: Useful resources, including case studies, on drought management.
  • Queensland drought assistance information: The Queensland Government and Australian Government offer programs to help farm families, farm businesses and farm communities affected by drought.

More information:       

Alex Stirton: E:alex.stirton@daf.qld.gov.au

Roger Sneath: E: Roger.Sneath@daf.qld.gov.au

Read the other articles in this series on planning for tough seasons: 

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Destocking to improve food security in drought - prone Ethiopia

By Dereje Adugna Tieke

Dereje is an Emergency Response & Transition Program Officer for CARE Ethiopia, with sixteen years of field experience in development work and emergency relief operations.

The contribution of CARE Ethiopia in permitting the publishing of this article is gratefully acknowledged.

This article describes Care Ethiopia's experiences of a destocking programme in Ethiopia, and the lessons they learned for future similar interventions1.

The Borana zone in the Oromiya region of southern Ethiopia is extremely drought prone. The population of close to 1.4 million people is predominantly pastoralist, depending on the main rains from March to mid-May and short rains from September to November for water and pasture to sustain their livelihood.

Beginning in 1996, the Borana zone suffered from severe drought, followed by erratic and insufficient rains for several years afterwards. In 1998, the short (Hagaya) and main (Ganna) rains were well below normal, and the situation became extremely critical in the lowland woredas of Yabello, Dire, Arero, Moyale and Teltele. Pasture became scarce, and water points such as ponds and traditional wells dried up earlier than usual. In order to cope, the pastoralists were forced to move their livestock to less affected areas, which put excessive pressure on the limited resources of those areas. The condition of calves and milking cows deteriorated severely due to the acute shortages of pasture and water, and in general, cattle mortality was significant and rising.

Meat in drying place, Borana

In October 1999, in view of this worsening situation and in conjunction with other relief efforts, CARE Borana began pilot destocking activities at two sites, Adegelechet in the Yabello woreda and Dubluk in the Dire woreda. As the intensity of the drought became more severe, a third centre was opened at Dara in Teltele. Destocking ended in August 2000 when most of the area in the Borana plateau received rain in the Hagaya and Ganna seasons, which improved the availability of pasture and water. Improvement in the physical condition and price of livestock made the pastoralists unwilling to barter the physically 'improved' livestock for grain.

Pilot destocking project

The pilot project comprised of two complementary components: livestock destocking and dry meat processing. It was designed, in the short term, to make use of severely weakened but otherwise healthy cattle in order to reduce human mortality risk and improve the nutritional status of malnourished and vulnerable community members. Through the exchange of grain for weak but otherwise healthy cattle, food income was generated. Dried meat (quanta), produced from these animals through the meat processing activity, was distributed to children2 and the elderly, supplementing the food rations already being received.

Dried and folded skin

The project also aimed to:

  • reduce the loss of assets due to the scarcity of forage and water
  • assist local communities to set up their own sustainable and replicable dried meat processing plants
  • assist in destocking, so that the competition for rangeland resources would be reduced and improve future livestock productivity.

During the eleven months of CARE's intervention, 1,466 weak but healthy cattle were exchanged for 118 MT of grain. From this exchange, CARE produced 6,651 kg of dried meat that was distributed to 18,069 malnourished children2 and elderly people in 27 Peasant Associations.

It was expected that the impact of the project would go beyond mere emergency relief. Any subsequent privatisation of centres by service cooperatives or interested pastoralist/ agropastoralist families to produce dried meat for sale could promote sustainable off-take of animals from grazing lands.

Previous experiences

Although this strategy was new to CARE Borana, a similar one had been used by the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC)3 and UNICEF from 1984/85 to 1987/88 at Adegelchet in the Yabello woreda. CARE took advantage of the lessons learned in this previous experience in order to design its system.

There were a number of differences between CARE's approach and that of RRC. While RRC paid cash for the cattle, CARE used a barter system. RRC viewed their intervention purely as an emergency relief project and once the pastoralists and their livestock had recovered from the drought, RRC discontinued the programme. CARE envisaged a potential longer term impact. Finally, there was no defined system in the RRC project for determining the health status of cattle to be purchased, except by visual observation. CARE assessed animal health based on veterinary examination.


CARE began operations at the Dubluk and Adegelchet sites in October 1999. The Dubluk center was established at a previous CARE camp site and only required a few additional facilities. Given that UNICEF had used the Adegelchet site in the past for the same purpose, all the required structures were in place and only required maintenance on already existing structures. In April 2000, a third center was started at Dara, Teltele and since it was a new site, all physical structures needed for the project had to be constructed.

The average labour requirement at each centre was 21 people, including five butchers (men), ten slicers (women), two herders, two guards, one supervisor/ storekeeper, and one vet technician (meat inspector).

Based on an agreement made with the Southern Rangeland Development Unit (SORDU), CARE Borana was responsible for providing a per diem to the SORDU vet technicians. These technicians were responsible for ensuring that all cattle to be exchanged for grain were healthy. They carried out ante mortem and post mortem examinations. They also ensured that basic hygiene practices were followed in the slaughtering, butchering, and meat drying processes as well as in the disposal of offal and drying of the hides. These technicians were also responsible for compiling monthly reports regarding the vet activities.

In terms of hiring non-technical labour, the project aimed to employ individuals from families who had lost their assets and cattle. Furthermore, CARE planned to develop a rotational system to train and employ additional men and women in the butchering and drying processes. In addition to their monthly salary, the employees at the sites were given organ meats, bones and any part of the animal that was good for human consumption but not appropriate for drying, in order to contribute to improving the community's food resources.

The cost for labour and construction/ rehabilitation in the three centres over the life of the project is presented in Table 1.

Destocking centre operations

Only cattle were accepted in the destocking centres since, unlike other livestock species such as shoats and camels, cattle solely graze and depend mainly on grasses for survival. This narrow feeding habit makes them the first drought victims since other species can both browse and graze, and so survive longer when pasture is depleted. Oxen and heifers were rarely brought to the destocking centres - cows predominated.

A bartering system, exchanging grain for weak but otherwise healthy cattle, was introduced as a mechanism to facilitate the exchange. All three centres used the same barter rate of 100 kg of grain per animal. This rate did not vary by season unless the animal was extremely emaciated, in which case only 50 kg of grain was paid. All interested pastoralists and agropastoralists had the right to use the service rendered by the destocking centres, as long as they brought weak, healthy cattle. Priority in bartering was given to Peasant Associations from distant areas and to very weakened cattle.

All animals were inspected by the vet technicians and had to be declared disease free in order to enter into the barter system. Post mortem examinations were also carried out prior to processing of the meat. Depending on the outcome of the examination, any infected organs would be discarded and if necessary, the entire animal rejected and burnt.

Initially the centres did not limit their bartering based on the centre's processing capacity. As a result, bartered cattle had to stay in the centres for up to 10 days before being slaughtered. While this allowed the pastoralists to barter a weakened cow before it died, the practice increased the risk of disease and death of cattle in the destocking centres. In their weakened state, the cattle were susceptible to any diseases which might be transmitted by other cattle brought for barter, or other range cattle they might come in contact with before slaughter. After two weakened cows died while being kept in the Dubluk destocking centre, the number of cattle bartered in any given day was limited to between seven and ten animals - the amount that could be slaughtered and processed on that same day. Neither of the other centres set a limit and accepted all the presenting healthy, weakened cattle.

After processing the meat from the bartered cattle, the dried meat was distributed to malnourished children and the elderly to supplement their protein intake.

Table 1 Labour and construction/ rehabilitation costs at project centres


Project assessment

The main findings of an assessment of the destocking programme were:

  • In the three centres, a total of 1,466 weakened but healthy cattle were exchanged for 1,179.7 quintals of maize.
  • Out of the 1,466 cattle bartered, 1451 (99%) were slaughtered and processed. The remaining one per cent (15 cattle) were discarded due to pre-slaughter death or post-mortem rejection.
  • A total of 6,651 kg of meat was dried from the 1,451 cattle butchered.
  • A total of 6,651 kg of dried meat was distributed to 18,069 beneficiaries in 27 Peasant Associations.
  • The cattle hides obtained from the centres (1456) were sold to local traders and the money received was used to offset centre costs.

Shortly after the onset of the ganna or long rainy season, the number of cattle presenting to the centres began to decline sharply. Once the pastoralists saw the emergence of grass shoots and the hope of saving their cattle, they chose to keep their animals rather than barter them.

Lessons learned

One of the programme assumptions was that, even if rains were to begin in early April and certainly after the short rains predicted for October/ November, pastoralists would need to trade their weakened cattle for grain in order to feed themselves until milk production could be re-established. This was found to be incorrect. The observed reality was that as soon as rainfall conditions improved, the supply of cattle to the destocking centres declined significantly.

Women to be employed in the center

Destocking, as a longer-term income generation activity in this region, is not feasible. Beyond the emergency phase, it wasn't very well accepted and furthermore,the Borana diet is not heavy on meat and so offers a limited market for quanta.

Based on our experiences, a number of recommendations are made which may help to improve future programming:

  • Such a programme should incorporate a support system (extension) to monitor livestock conditions and to encourage pastoralists to begin bartering their cattle before they become desperately emaciated.
  • mobile destocking units could be useful so that already weakened cattle would not experience further stress by being herded to the destocking centres.
  • Programme budgets should be allocated specifically to each centre to facilitate monitoring.
  • A rotational system should be arranged to ensure equitable distribution of cash for work benefits, and to train men and women in the butchering and drying processes.
  • Specific training should be planned for the employees of each centre.
  • The duties of the supervisors of each centre should include complete documentation of meat distribution activities.
  • Destocking centres should be handed over to government or private entities.
  • At least one full time light vehicle is needed to support the destocking centres.
  • Destocking centres should be much closer to the affected area in order to ensure that weakened cattle reach the centres before dying.

This pilot project has demonstrated that food insecurity can be ameliorated through coordination of the communities, government entities, and non-governmental organisations, and interventions such as this destocking project, could be applied to other droughtrelated situations.

For further information, contact Dereje Adugna, P.O. Box 4710, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Tel. +251 1 538040
E-mail: derejea@careet.org

Show footnotes

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Reference this page

Dereje Adugna Tieke (2003). Destocking to improve food security in drought - prone Ethiopia. Field Exchange 19, July 2003. p21. www.ennonline.net/fex/19/destocking


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