Follow-up falls vital in first drought recovery steps

Follow-up falls vital in first drought recovery steps


CONSISTENCY is the key to many pursuits and follow-up rainfall is allowing many stations to turn the corner after years of drought.


CONSISTENCY is the key to many pursuits and follow-up rainfall is allowing many stations to turn the corner after years of drought.

Pastoralists in the north-east received another downpour last week, following handy falls in August and September.

While some sheep are starting to drift back onto station country from agistment and breeding programs are resuming with vigour as a result of better lambing results, there is still caution about re-stocking too quickly.

Jon Lock, Coonatto Station, Hammond, described himself as "one of the lucky ones", with 41 millimetres of rain last week pushing their annual total to 270mm, just 5mm off their average - a welcome relief after two dry years.

"We've lost a lot of sheep like a lot of places and had to buy road trains of hay from the West Coast," he said.

"It was just bloody awful.

"But we've still got 1200 breeders and we had a 110 per cent lambing this year, so we'll aim to slowly breed numbers back up rather than buy any in.

"There's two or three age groups where there were no lambs so there's a big hole in the breeding program. We'll keep our 6.5-year-olds to mate this year and we'll get out of it fine."

Mr Lock is also considering buying in some cattle after a gamble in 2019 paid off.

"We bought a mob from Roma, Qld," he said.

"I went out on a limb and they're looking absolutely magnificent, so I'm about to start selling them off."

At Angorichina Station, east of Blinman, rain - 28mm in September and 21mm last week - came at the right time for Ed Carmichael and partner Alice Fargher, who run the station with Alice's parents and owners Di and Ian Fargher.

After de-stocking due to drought, they had just brought back 700 sheep from agistment at Maxwell Wines, McLaren Vale, before the first rain. Mr Carmichael said it was a good feeling to have sheep back on the station, which held 4000 head before the drought, but they weren't out of trouble yet.

"If we keep getting some nice warm weather for germination and some rain afterwards it's definitely going to help us and set us along the right way," he said.

Mr Carmichael said there was still a "handful" of sheep on agistment at Clare.

Paddy Rowe, Almerta Station, north of Carrieton, said their first consistent rains in years had made a huge difference to feed.

"It's nice and green, and growing," he said. "It's filled some dams and the creeks have run a couple of times. It's a big turnaround."

After averaging 75-100mm annually during the past four years, Mr Rowe said they had 250mm in 2020 so far, including 46mm in August, 47mm in September and 30mm to-date in October.

"In the past few years we'd get little bits and pieces, but not at any stage have we had any feed," he said.

"We'd get a rain and then it wouldn't rain for three months.

"We closed up some of our open grass country that was pretty badly wind-affected and drought-affected.

"We dropped off one-third of our breeders and have done a lot of pellet and hay feeding in the past couple of years to keep our main breeders going."

While Mr Rowe said they had "turned the corner", he said they had rested some of their struggling country to get good feed set, before considering putting any of their 6000 sheep back on it.

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