The waiting game: Graziers tell of life in drought-stricken QueenslandBy Brigid Andersen, Saturday October 12, 2013 - 12:07 EDT
More than 60 per cent of Queensland is drought declared and rain could still be months away.
In some parts of the state, graziers have already been forced to shoot starving cattle.
With their hopes pinned on the coming wet season, three Queensland graziers describe life in the big dry:
Werrington Station, Queensland's central north
Russell Lethbridge says drought life is a roundabout.
"It's not easy. We're a growing business. You're on the roundabout and you can't get off at this point," he said.
That roundabout is something many Queensland graziers have found themselves on.
Most will tell you that the Labor government's snap ban on live exports in 2011 left a huge glut that the local market has not been able to absorb.
Now with the drought set in, many graziers have struggled to offload their herd and so are committed to buying supplementary feeds to keep their cattle alive until the rain arrives.
When the drought started, the Lethbridges had 10,000 head of cattle at three locations across Queensland, so their roundabout has been long and costly.
Mr Lethbridge thinks he will have to wait until next year for drought-breaking rain.
"The predictions are not going to be for an early wet - looks like we've got to see new year," he said.
"The big issue with years like this is not so much the year in, but there's a massive loss of production in the following years.
"Calving can go from a weening rate which we have of 75 to 80 per cent to 30 per cent in the years following."
He says times are tough but it is nothing they have not been through before.
"We've been on Werrington for five generations. There's been a lot of years come and go and a lot of markets come and go," he said.
"We're all in this for the long term."
Albury, Queensland's southern inland
On drought-declared Albury, Rosie and Peter Bryant and their eldest son Lachie are trying to keep feed and water up to 1,400 head of cattle.
Most days, all three of them are out driving bulldozers linked with heavy chain to push over mulga scrub for the cattle to eat.
With temperatures now getting into the high 30s, they start early and try and stay off the machines during the hottest part of the day.
There are also dozer breakdowns, lick runs and dry dams to contend with.
Rosie Bryant says it is a constant juggling act.
"It's sort of a staggered thing. One dam will go dry so then you've got to work around that," she said.
"It's different for every paddock. Every day you're nutting out a new direction."
Mrs Bryant says the biggest worry is how long it might be until the first storm comes.
"It's just day by day," she said.
"You go to bed at night and you think, well we've got this day out of the way, we've successfully fed all these cattle. Now we'll worry about tomorrow."
Mrs Bryant says mentally they are all holding up, the cattle are strong - and that they are grateful for.
Cedarvale, Queensland's southern inland
Don Noon sums it up when he describes it as a "waiting game with a lot of pressure".
His Cedarvale property, not far from Albury, has been drought declared since May.
In April this year, Mr Noon was forced to take the drastic step of taking 700 head of cattle on the road and going droving for greener pastures.
"When we were on the road you probably do from daylight, and you're with the cattle all day, so you easily do 12 hours, seven days a week," he said.
Back on the almost de-stocked property, Don's wife Kim was busy trying to keep supplementary feed like lick and cotton seed up to the remaining herd.
After about four months, when the cattle started calving, it became too hard to keep droving them so the Noons managed to find some agistment land - a rare thing when 60 per cent of the state is drought declared.
With the agistment paddocks some 450 kilometres from home, the Noons are still spending a lot of time on the road.
"Under different circumstances we would have sold the cattle but because of [the previous] government's interference with stopping the live export our normal markets were under serious pressure from those northern Australian cattle having to come this way," Mr Noon said.
"There were just too many cattle in the system. We chose not to sell to try and maintain our breeding herd."
On top of that he says kangaroos in plague proportions are exacerbating the already tough drought conditions.
"It's a major environmental problem. They're really destroying country," he said.
"Normally if you were running sheep on this country you'd be running three acres to a sheep, now we're running a couple of roos per acre.
"Those numbers are just decimating."
Mr Noon says there is not a big enough market for kangaroo products for the current harvests to be effective and more needs to be done to ease the pressure on the land.
He says for now his biggest challenge is maintaining a cash flow until the drought breaks.
"It's just a maintenance routine, you're just trying to keep [the cattle] alive until the rain comes," he said.
© ABC 2013
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