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Big dry pushes graziers to find lush paddocks in cropping country

Cherie von Hörchner, Tuesday September 26, 2017 - 15:18 EST
ABC image
Little feed in paddocks near Karoola Station. - ABC

Unusually dry conditions in New South Wales are forcing graziers to seek agistment in north-western Victoria.

Agistment is the temporary grazing of livestock on available paddocks in more fertile areas.

Last Saturday was the hottest September day on record in NSW, with the previous three months seeing most of the central and western parts of the state suffering rainfall deficiencies ranked by the Bureau of Meteorology from "serious" to "severe".

Mildura-based BR&C livestock agent, Darren Old, said many graziers from New South Wales were at the end of their tether.

"Some of our clients have had just two to three inches of rain in the last 10 months, and it's starting to have a toll on the stock," Mr Old said.

"They were just starting to sell down to their core breeders in places."



Mr Old said graziers even up to the far north of the state were now seeking agistment options in the Mildura mallee area.

He said the demand was from through Menindee, Wilcannia and right across and back to Broken Hill. He said he had clients at Bourke where it was very tough at the moment.

"They've had a long, dry spell now and a lot of those guys are hand feeding sheep and have been for a little while," he said.

"I think most clients, if they could get a paddock nowadays … I don't think anyone says no to agistment with good guaranteed feed and water."

Agistment cost increases not big

Mr Old said agistment was often a more attractive option than traditional feedlots, which could be expensive, or the drastic measure of prematurely selling livestock.

"It's [agistment] really cheap compared to what the stock is worth nowadays," he said.

"In the last 50 years, agistment really hasn't gone up like the prices of sheep — they used to go at $10 to $20, now they're worth $80 to $150.

"Agistment hasn't gone from 30 or 40 cents to $5 — it's anywhere from 80 cents to a $1.50, depending on the quality of the feed."



Drought causes sell off

Wayne Smith, an organic sheep producer from Karoola Station 185 kilometres from Broken Hill in NSW, is one grazier who has been suffering.

"It's pretty bad," he said.

"We've had 60 millimetres of rain for the year and if we don't get any rain from now on, it's going to be a long, dry summer."

Two months ago, Mr Smith had to sell some stock just to keep the healthiest alive.

"We looked at the situation and went through and took all the older ewes out, right down to about a three-and-a-half year old, so we've pretty well taken half of the breeding ewes out.

"Then we had a clean-up on the goats as well, trying to keep a few less mouths on the property. You've really got to get in early and get some numbers off.

"It makes it hard. If you were to sell your best ewes and you've got to try and buy them back again, they're going to cost you at least $200 a head to buy back in."



Organic certification makes agistment difficult

Like many other NSW graziers, Mr Smith is now considering agistment in the Mallee, but the organic certification of his stock makes choosing the right pasture a difficult business.

"I have approached a feed lot, just to get some prices, but we're now willing to look at agistment," he said.

"It's hard, because you wouldn't be allowed to continue with the organic status if you send them away to a property that's not organic certified.

"When they come back on the property — next year or whenever it rains — they can be recertified, but it's one of the tricky things to get around."

Nevertheless, Mr Smith said the recent heat and windy conditions meant time for praying for rain was over.

"There's definitely no green grass around," he said.

"And as soon as you get a bit of a warm day like today, with a bit of wind, it'll start moving the topsoil pretty quickly — in the next month or so I think."


- ABC

© ABC 2017

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