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Cattle on the move as graziers give up on wet season in drought-stricken Queensland

By Nicole Bond, Sunday February 18, 2018 - 10:37 EDT
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Hugh Button is destocking his property at Muttaburra for the second time in three years. - ABC

There is an exodus of cattle leaving drought-stricken parts of western Queensland as graziers give up on seeing a wet season, two months before the rains are usually due to finish.

Richard Simpson, 55, a stock agent in Longreach with 30 years' experience in the region, describes his client base as mature — with one grazier aged in his mid-80s.

Mr Simpson said neither of them had seen the region facing a total destocking of sheep and cattle as it was now.

"This region will be destocked ... I reckon you can put a zero on it — probably the worst you want to see," Mr Simpson said.

He predicted if there was no rain by the end of the summer, all cattle in the region would have been moved out and sheep would follow in the winter.

For the first time, Mr Simpson has worked right through the summer — a normally quiet time — helping producers deal with cattle that are running out of food and water.

Mr Simpson said because the region had endured six failed wet seasons in a row, which are usually between December to April each year, graziers started to give up waiting for rain late January.

"They are a pretty resilient lot this lot out here but the cracks are there — even the best of the best have had enough," Mr Simpson said.

'Situation is apocalyptic'

For the second time in three years, Hugh Button has begun destocking his property Crossmore near Muttaburra, north of Longreach.

Mr Button said it was heartbreaking to sell 40 years of bloodlines the first time round, but this time it was an easy decision to make.

"I feel that we are running out of time and I can see that a lot of other people are in the same boat," he said.

"I was hoping to beat the mad rush, but I think we've been caught up in it to a degree."

Mr Button said the situation was apocalyptic.

"It's like a shopkeeper giving away everything on his shelves and turning around and having to maintain the shop with no income and to keep living in the shop — he can't walk away from it," Mr Button said.

While times are tough, Mr Button remains positive about his future on the land and will take the opportunity to upskill and do some training, property maintenance and construction, once the cattle are gone.

"It's the game we choose to play — we just got to get on with it — it's not much fun," Mr Button said.

"It's a hell of a lot of hard work but that's just the industry we're in, you've got to accept."

'Grass is a bit harder to find'

PJ Elliott owns more than 60,000 hectares of land, but he had taken to the stock routes and roadsides to feed his remaining 1,400 head of cattle.

"We're trying to keep their bellies full until the end of February basically and hopefully there's been something [rainfall] and we can take them home," Mr Elliott said.

"Grass is a bit harder to find — everybody has eaten it."

Despite the tight spot, Mr Elliott said he considered himself lucky for jagging a few isolated storms last year.

"We've had a bit of relief— we haven't had a full season — we've had a lot of cattle away in the last five years, but a lot of our country is still alive," Mr Elliott said.

"Some people have just had nothing for two years and lot of their country is dead."

Mr Elliott said he was resisting selling his cattle this month, but may soon need to start selling off his land to satisfy the banks.

"I reckon this is the last year we can keep hanging on the way we have — it's a little bit hard to keep absorbing those tough years one after another — sooner or later you start scraping the bottom of that barrel," Mr Elliott said.

Despite the bleak outlook, the father of three said he had no doubt he would see the end of this drought while still on the land.

"We do what we love — that's probably why we keep doing it — I just get up and do what I love every day, so that's the main thing," Mr Elliott said.

"I've got a wonderful lady behind me and three awesome kids, so that makes it a lot easier."


© ABC 2018

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