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Farmers rely on faith, children and 'skipping' pigs to stay smiling throughout the drought

Lara Webster, Thursday July 11, 2019 - 06:42 EST
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Brad Jackson and his family make sure they keep doing the things that make them happy, as the drought drags on. - ABC

On drought-stricken New South Wales properties, many farmers are still hand-feeding stock.

Those with an ounce of hope for rain are getting the machinery ready for when the downpour finally arrives.

Some missed a winter crop last year and the remainder of 2019 does not looking promising either.

Due to a lack of rain, the number of crops planted in NSW is well down on previous years, with an estimated 60 per cent of the potential area for crops being sown this year.

The Bureau of Meteorology climate outlook also reported an increased risk of frost in the three months from July to September.

Despite that grim reality, some farmers in the state's north dig deep for what brings them joy in tough times — a motorbike ride, faith and playing with the kids.

Keeping the faith

Brad Jackson is a crop farmer near Gurley in the north west of the state.

His family own a dryland operation, so they rely totally on rain and right now they have very little crop in the ground.

What is there is going backwards with limited sub soil moisture available.

Despite the fact that a winter crop could be missed, Mr Jackson has something that keeps him smiling — his faith in God.

"Really I look to Him for faith and his help and support," he said.

"For me that helps take my eyes of the uncertainty of the dry conditions around us and helps me focus on something else above.

"We do have a lot to be thankful for and I try to keep that joy and keep that thankful attitude despite the tough times."

Mr Jackson said he also relied on a good sense of humour, his children and motorbikes to keep a positive attitude and relieve the pressure of the relentless dry.

"I certainly love my motorbike riding and we try to do that as much as we can and get outside and let off a bit of steam."

Kids are key

Just a short way down the road near the small village of Bellata is feedlot operator and Santa Gertrudis breeder Michael MacCue.

They have let go of stock and the feedlot is also under pressure, with big bills for grain and roughage difficult to source.

For Mr MacCue, knowing that his children are waiting at home to play is what helps him get though the long, dry days.

"For me I've got the kids at home and so I enjoy going home and spending a bit of time with them and doing their sport and things like that," he said.

"I can imagine if I went home and had nothing to do except sit there and think about it more, it would wear you down.

"Having the family at home and having other activities like sports gives you something else to focus on when you get a chance to get away."

Mr MacCue said it was also important to maintain a positive mindset for his children.

"On that drive home it's a matter of changing your focus from here to there, trying to be as positive as you can.

"Try and let them know that things are fine and life goes on."

'Snoring, skipping' pigs

Inland from Tamworth near Gunnedah, is free-range pig producer Jack Hewitt.

He has a small operation and feeds 140 pigs, with margins tightening thanks to increasing feed costs.

As he battles the dry he said it was his pigs, particularly the piglets, that kept him smiling.

"They're always doing something, they're either sleeping and snoring or out playing and skipping around the paddock.

"Watching the little babies born and bloom over the coming weeks into beautiful pigs that are out free ranging, it really floats my boat," he said.

As well as his pigs, Mr Hewitt said he tried to keep a positive outlook, rather than focus on the negatives.

He also used the dry times to get farm jobs done which he would be unable to in a wet season.

They are jobs which provide another welcome distraction.

"Just a bit of fencing or a bit of replenishing the wallows ... there's all these little things you can do in a dry time," Mr Hewitt said.

"There's always something you can do and at the end of the day you look back and go, 'Wow, that's been a good day'."


© ABC 2019

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