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Eastern saleyards are being flooded with cows as water becomes a scarce resource

Lara Webster, Haley Craig and Amy McCosker, Friday March 8, 2019 - 11:36 EDT
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Key breeding stock are flooding saleyards throughout Central Queensland and New South Wales. - ABC

Drought-stricken cattle producers are making the tough call to sell off the cattle they would have used to rebuild their herds.

Throughout Central Queensland and much of New South Wales cattle producers are making the tough call to destock their remaining breeders along with hordes of young cattle, with no relief from drought in sight.

In the New England North West this week, yards throughout the region saw figures of up to 4,000 cattle, with the numbers breaking local records.

The kicker is that the yardings have been boosted by breeding and young stock that have been weaned early as the scarcity of water begins to take its toll on top of feed pressure.

Some of these are the last remaining stock producers have been trying to hang on to and hand feed.

With stock water drying up, they have no choice but to offload as the situation reaches a critical point for some regions.

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) analyst Alex McIntosh said slaughter rates for eastern states last week surpassed 150,000 head.

That was the highest weekly slaughter rate since October 2015.

Many of those cattle were female breeding stock who would have been the foundations for herd rebuilding when the drought breaks.

"It probably represents a big disappointment to a lot of those producers who managed to hold on to those breeding stock throughout one of the driest 18 month periods on record," Mr McIntosh said

Herd number forecast

Recently the percentage of females being slaughtered recently surpassed 50 per cent of the slaughter numbers.

MLA had set a projection for the national herd to fall to 26.2 million by June this year but that figure will now be revised.

"That [figure] was based on our January projections which did factor in lower than average rainfall rainfall for summer," Mr McIntosh said.

"However it's fair to say that we probably did not factor in conditions to be quite so bad."

MLA will revisit the projections next month, which may see a revision below 26 million cattle.

The projection also included an estimate that would see numbers reaching back up above 28 million by 2022, but that will now be a challenge.

At the yards

Throughout the New England North West, yards at Tamworth, Inverell, Armidale and Gunnedah have all seen record yardings.

Luke Scicluna is the general manager of Davidson and Cameron at Gunnedah.

He said the scarcity of water was the last straw for producers trying to hold on and wait for a break.

"I think people are just nervous, you can always cart feed in but you can't cart water to stock," Mr Scicluna said.

He estimated that 90 to 95 per cent of the cows being sold through Gunnedah were going to slaughter or destined to be slaughtered.

"Some of the abattoirs are buying cows and putting them into feedlots for supply later on, but very few [are] going back into the system."

Ellis Hollis is a cattle producer near Gunnedah and he said the numbers were hard to believe.

"It is more or less nearly a breeders sale. I do not know where they just keep coming from."

Fellow producer Lisa Bates said it was the same sad picture every week.

"It does really make you think what is going to be left at the end of it, if anyone is going to have any cattle left."

The situation is similar in southern Queensland where Warwick agents yarded the largest number in three years on Tuesday with 2,500 head.

In Central Queensland numbers in Emerald jumped by almost 800 head on the previous week to see 4,000 cattle yarded last week.

Recent live export orders have been filled leaving demand waning, not to mention prices which were down by between 60 and 80 cents.

Emerald agent Richard Thompson said numbers were building week on week.

"There are increasing numbers each week of people who can see the end of their water and their feed so they're digging deeper into their herds all the time."


© ABC 2019

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