The price of hay and feed is going up, up, up in New South Wales if you can even get your hands on it.
Worse still, hay could run out in six weeks’ time according to some farmers.
Belltrees sixth generation farmer Anto White thinks that the way to survive something like this could be to take a stocktake of the hay and feed available in a bid to better work out where and how drought-stricken farmers can get hold of it.
Anto is on more than 18,000 acres of land at Belltrees in Scone.
In a good year his property holds 4,500 head of cattle but at the moment during one of the driest times on record, he is trying to keep 2,500 alive.
“I don’t think it could get much worse. In this area, we’ve been in drought for nearly two years. We’ve been feeding cattle for that long. The rest of the state has caught up and everyone is crying that it’s the worst drought on record,” said Anto.
“Between Gundy and Moonan, Ellerston and over to Merriwa, probably Rouchel were in this dreadful drought way before everyone else.”
Anto started to sell his stock when the market was good when the drought first hit and also sent stock off to agistment.
But he’s had to sell most of his agistment cows to focus on feeding his breeding stock at home.
“All of our cows are being fed cottonseed and unfortunately we are reaching a time when I don’t know what’s going on but cottonseed we hear is in big supply but we are finding it hard to source.”
The cattle are being fed hay every day, three kilograms of cottonseed and other food substitutes like pellets.
The cost is astronomical at Belltrees for that, around $25,000 per week.
100 per cent of NSW is now affected by drought in some way or in intense drought.
“For me now the most important thing now is the availability of feed and to source feed. I’ve been crying out for over six months now that there needs to be a stocktake.”
“We need to know how much feed is available out there and I don’t think the government knows how many animals are physically being fed every day,”
“That to me is vital, that information should’ve been done months ago and it's sad to think that we are in a situation where I hear that hay could be dried up in six weeks’ time.”
“That’s sad. We should’ve known this ages ago.”
A stocktake would allow farmers to see where they can get stock or even allow governments or organisations to better spread the hay to those who desperately need it.
Organisations already are of course.
Anto was a part of a hay run that came up to Gundy over the weekend from Kempsey.
“I think it was one of the best days I’ve had in my life.”
Josh Ball a butcher in Kempsey put the call out on Facebook for hay and donations and two weeks later seven semi loads of hay, over 300 bales, food and water came to the Upper Hunter’s doorstep.
Anto had organised for 40 farmers from around the district to come to his property where the goods were distributed.
“It was a very very special day,”
“People and I was one of those, I had tears in my eyes.”
Farmers choices are getting harder to make between scraping the bottom of the feed barrel to keep stock alive or sell off all of their stock and face the real possibility they won’t be able to buy any back for a long time.
“To see cattle that normally in a good season would be fat and shiny and today aren’t carrying a lot of weight and struggling and people that have had to destock like we’ve had to,” said Anto.
“I’ve heard of situations where people have had to actually destroy animals. I’ve had to do that here in January we had cattle bogged in dams and we just had to shoot them and I tell you what you’ve got to be very mentally strong to handle that.”
“The mental toll is unbelievable. Just to physically get up every morning an feed cattle,”
“Unfortunately the rest of the things on the property are falling around you and you get out of a morning and you see the wire broken on a fence or a limb down on a fence we can’t repair those we haven’t got time and that is depressing in itself,”
“It hurts me when you hear groups like PETA and things that come out and say we don’t love our stock and we don’t look after our stock. That is just… every farmer I know loves their cattle and they do the best they can but unfortunately in times like this. Feed is not all that easy to source.”
Anto thinks the State and Federal Governments announcements of late are welcome and farmers are grateful for any help they can get, but more needs to be done.
“There’s no light at the end of the tunnel.”
Image credit: Grant Broadcasters/Jessica Rouse and DPI