Forty six cows died of dehydration at a research centre in Queensland run by a state government department that overseas animal welfare.
AAP reports the heifers were left without water in a holding paddock at an agri-science research station run by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Forestry in Ayr, south of Townsville.
A department spokeswoman would not say how long the cows had been in the paddock.
AAP reports a departmental inquiry has begun.
Agriculture minister John McVeigh was told about the incident on Friday. He has ordered an independent investigation as well.