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Dry Queensland cattle properties now 'desperate'

Neroli Roocke, Tuesday April 16, 2013 - 14:21 EST
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The short showers these storms have delivered have done nothing to ease the drought situation on cattle properties east of Mt Isa in northwestern Queensland. This picture was taken on the road between Julia Creek and McKinlay. - ABC
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Grazier James Pearson gives instructions to his helicopter pilot at 'Bull Creek' near McKinlay in northwestern Queensland. Stock is being taken to greener paddocks further south. - ABC
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Usually in April, slashers are needed to keep the long grass under control near the house on this cattle property in the McKinlay district of Queensland. This year summer rains have failed to deliver and the region is set to be drought declared. - ABC
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Paddocks that should have knee-high grass in April are running out of feed so Queensland graziers are sending thousands of head of cattle to sale or agistment. - ABC

Isolated storm showers are doing little to ease the drought situation across wide areas of Queensland's west.

The summer wet season failed to deliver soaking rain, and now whole local government areas are working towards applying for drought declarations, while 20 individual properties have already been drought-declared.

The McKinlay shire, to the east of Mount Isa, is among the regions experiencing a one in 20-year dry spell, prompting graziers to send their cattle to market or agistment because there's nothing for them to eat.

Standing amid sparse, ankle-high and dry grass at 'Bull Creek' and with mustering underway, James Pearson says the station this year is very different to previous seasons.

"There's normally grass up to your knees and generally green or just haying off, the cattle would be fat and everyone's happy and it's just a great atmosphere and a great place to be.

"This year it's really copped it; I think right up to the Gulf is pretty ordinary."

Jim Brodie on 'Redland Park' has applied for government assistance which can include subsidies for carting stock, fodder and water.

"We sort of use mid-February as our cut-off although a lot of the old-timers say mid-March; but by then it's probably too late."

He's already sold off a lot of stock and is now having to move his core breeding group to greener paddocks.

"We're going to send cattle on agistment. At the moment we can only get it short term, just enough to wean a few calves and that'll get us out of a little bit of trouble.

"Then we'll have to go to market with them if we've got no alternative after that."

The influx of cattle on the market has pushed prices down and southern feedlots are full.

Strathfield Station has 1,400 head of cattle with drovers walking the stock routes, after deciding it was a more cost-effective option than road transport and the increasingly competitive agistment market.

Heather Moore says most of her house garden has died off along with the feed.

"Normally we'd have the slasher going on the bobcat cutting the grass but it's very bare and for this time of the year it's not normal.

"We're used to maybe going into drought at the end of the year because you might get storms that will get you through to August/September.

"But we haven't had a wet at all, nothing. The creeks haven't run, a lot of the dams are dry now and it's a long time to the next wet season, so everyone's very worried what it's going to be like by the end of the year because we normally don't get winter rain at all.

"It's going to be desperate for a lot of people."


© ABC 2013

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