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Western NSW farmers buying Western Australia sheep to rebuild flocks

By Jen McCutcheon, Wednesday May 20, 2020 - 07:00 EST
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Sheep farmer Josh O'Connor, who lives near Dubbo, has bought sheep from WA to replenish his flock. - ABC

State borders are closed to people but plenty of Western Australian sheep are being trucked east to bolster NSW flocks after years of drought.

Western NSW farmers have spent tens of thousands of dollars to truck the sheep such long distances, but it was worth it to use fresh green fodder.

"We struggled to buy lambs locally so went a bit further over to the west and bought some merino weathers," farmer Josh O'Connor said.

Mr O'Connor, who farms sheep in Eumungerie north of Dubbo, sourced over 700 lambs from Western Australia, to add to his flock that was diminished over the past three years of drought.

Amazingly the cost including transport still works out better than buying closer to home.

"There's still pretty good margin in the weathers we brought, we have the wool to come off them yet."

But some farmers are not as well placed to restock their farms after the drought pushed up farm debts, and sheep hit record prices at the saleyards.

Record sheep prices

Local stock and station agent Bill Gibbs said sourcing stock for farmers had been difficult, especially since the decent rainfall in February and March.

"We've had to stretch ourselves pretty far and wide to find enough stock and good quality stock for everyone," he said.

"As far as our cliental goes, we've had guys who have destocked completely, others that have kept their core breeders, but most lots are down 30-40 percent, some are down 50-60 percent."

The sheep flock in Australia is the lowest it has been since 1904 and because of that, the cost of restocking is very high.

"I'd hate to think of the number but it's probably doubled, I would say, so for a good ewe you're talking well over $200," Bill Gibbs said.

Taking the long road

When you find the sheep at the right price, the next step is getting them trucked from WA to Western NSW.

A road train has eight decks and can fit about 850 sheep on it, which could cost farmers up to $30,000.

"You see some pretty hefty freight bills come in, farmers are playing with some big dollars," agent Bill Gibbs said.

"There's still a long way to go before they make any money back too, there's a few guys who bought lambs from Western Australia, they might see a bit of money early on but other than that, it's a long process and the cropping guys won't see any money until closer to Christmas."

Freight subsidies no longer available

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party Member for Barwon Roy Butler, wants freight subsides on transport for restocking introduced to take pressure off farmers.

"People don't have cash at the moment — they have spent whatever cash they've got to sustain themselves through the drought," he said.

"Regional New South Wales can help itself through this, from an economic perspective, it just needs a bit of help to get started."

Farmer Josh O'Connor agreed it would help, but was pragmatic about drought.

"But you just have to take the good with the bad," he said.


© ABC 2020

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