Cattle in poor body condition in the ACT region. (Photo courtesy of Tom Sebo, Goulburn Post)

Cattle in poor body condition in the ACT region. (Photo courtesy of RSPCA).

RSPCA officers are shooting starving sheep and cattle on parched farms around the Canberra region.

As lambing and calving livestock compete with kangaroos in plague numbers, welfare officers and police are prosecuting some farmers with hungry stock for animal cruelty.

Rain at the wrong time and high numbers of cattle from the north flooding markets and depressing prices - a legacy of suspending live export with Indonesia in 2011 - have caught farmers off guard.

Cattle in poor body condition in the ACT region (Photo courtesy of Tom Sebo, Goulburn Post).

Cattle in poor body condition in the ACT region (Photo courtesy of RSPCA).

Braidwood district vet Bob Templeton is warning farmers passers by won’t tolerate seeing skinny cows in paddocks without grass.

‘‘We are getting neighbours putting in people for their (starving) stock, where they never used to do it.

‘‘The animal welfare bar has been raised dramatically in the last few years, which is a great thing because it keeps people on their toes.’’

RSPCA regional inspector Jean Sprague has attended Yass, Gunning and Goulburn farms where cows and sheep have either been shot, or owners ordered to feed them.

‘‘It’s just unacceptable. A good farmer knows he has to take into account the cost of keeping the protein level up to his stock,’’ Ms Sprague said.

‘‘People say, ‘the prices have dropped, I was waiting for the price to go up.’ Well, you are going to go out backwards. They just don’t do the maths on it.’’

Ms Sprague said land owners at fault ranged from absentee farmers to experienced stockmen, who had become complacent.

‘‘It all comes down to this: if you’ve got stock, feed them. An animal can get sick, an animal can have a veterinary issue and that is a different thing all together.

‘‘When an animal is simply starving, the finger points to the person in charge,’’ Ms Sprague said.

Elders Goulburn manager Steve Ridley said a post-winter sale on Tuesday attracted about 2000 older sheep and lambs.

Mr Ridley said prices were firmer than cattle prices, which had been falling, partly because Indonesia had stopped trading with Australia.

‘‘Central Queensland has been very dry. What that does is push a lot of those cattle south, it has a flow on effect, right the way through.’’

Bungendore grazier Harry Osborne, who has been feeding his stock all winter, said on the urban fringe people bought land and made money from cattle but did not have the experience to cope with unexpected weather.

Mr Osborne said rain in any month beginning with J spelt disaster. Heavy falls in January and June had drained nutrients from the grass, while warmer  autumn and late winter were not accompanied by much needed moisture.

Farmers who needed help weren’t given it.

‘‘It’s not ‘mate, you need to do this’. It is ‘mate, we’re here to shoot your stock’,’’ Mr Osborne said.

‘‘I’m not pessimistic, I’m uneasy. I’m looking at this and thinking, my get out of jail card is slipping away from me.

‘‘That is, I was looking forward to spring being a time where stock prices might claw their way back north and I would be able to off load stock for good money.’’