Despite the rain last week the drought tightens its grip on a fair part of Eastern Australia, and we are feeling the pinch on the farm as well, with over half our country now eaten out and the rest is under pressure from the remaining animals. We are selling what we can at the moment as the market for unfinished stock, especially cattle, is very low and in fact well below production cost. We are lucky in many respects as we still have good ground water, many farms have already run out. Animals can survive on limited feed for quite a while, but not a day without water at this time of year.
Over the long term we expect the majority of rain to fall during the summer months, with up to 200mm falling each month for the Nov-Feb period and then generally a dryer spell during the autumn leading to winter. Currently we are under 10% of these numbers and coming off a drier spring last year there is no soil moisture at all. With average temperatures over 35 degrees for the last couple of months and a steady breeze blowing most days, the grass has copped a hiding and all nutrients have been taken with the wind.
As you can expect fattening stock on our farm at the moment is not a priority, survival is, and the aim now is to keep the core herd going until the consistent rain comes, and the grass returns. To be forced into a position to sell your stock now and buy in again when the rains come is similar to selling at the bottom of the market and buying at the peak. No matter how much planning you do for drought, or how good a farmer you are there comes a time when the feed, the water, or the money run out.
Sourcing a fully grass fed product has been difficult for a while. We have been sourcing lamb out of Cowra and beef from the lower hunter, however the realities mean that soon a quality purely grass fed product will be very limited. Most stock coming into winter will be feed assisted, so still in the paddocks eating what grass there is, and being supplementary fed to keep the nutrient and protein levels up. We will continue to source what we can, but I expect without more follow up rain over the next few weeks, things will only get worse as winter kicks in. Either way we, as all farmers, will keep doing the best with what we’ve got. As my Mum said on the phone the other day, “Well, we are one day closer to good rain!”.