THE choking grip of drought is tightening on the central west and farmers have hit the panic button, continuing to sell stock in record numbers.
Dams are dry, paddocks are like dust bowls and there is no rain in sight.
Primary producers started to get nervous in December, getting rid of sheep and cattle amid concerns of being caught with the prospect of handfeeding for months on end.
As a result the Central Tablelands Livestock Exchange (CTLX) near Carcoar has been inundated and last week’s sales again showed the trend with a yarding of 3500 head of cattle and more than 20,000 sheep.
Bathurst selling agent Todd Clements from Bowyer and Livermore says the word drought comes up in most conversations at the moment.
“We haven’t had any decent rain since winter,” he said. “At CTLX we alone sold 900 head at Tuesday’s cattle sale and I can’t ever recall us having those type of big numbers.
“Everyone is in the same boat. No rain and no tucker and now the big problem is people are running out of water because their dams are bone dry.
“Most blokes are down to handfeeding now, but that’s if you can get the hay. There’s a mad scramble for it at the moment.”
Mr Clements said it wouldn’t be long before farmers didn’t have any more stock to sell.
“They’ve cut everything back and only have their core breeding stock left which they will feed through the winter, hoping for some spring rain,” he said.
“We started noticing things hotting up in November and things haven’t really stopped since then.
“The quality of the stock hasn’t been too bad, but it won’t be far away before we are seeing skin-on-the-bone stuff.
“A sign of the times is that we have clients out around Oberon who have been farming there for 50 years.
“They are saying this is the second worst drought they’ve seen apart from the one in 1982. That shows how bad things are because the country out that way is as good as you can get.”
CTLX manager Nathan Morris said all the December sales were well above average.
“We hit a peak though at the second sale in January. In one week alone we sold 10,000 head of cattle, 5000 in Tuesday’s prime sale and another 5000 at Friday’s store sale,” he said.
“At this stage I can’t see the supply of stock which is able to be sold drying up. I reckon we’ve got another six to eight weeks before that happens.
“After that everyone has to hang on and handfeed through winter with what stock they’ve decided to keep.
“All the talk around here is about drought. Surface water is a big issue and everyone is after hay. You don’t have to do much travelling on the roads to see the amount of hay being moved around the state.
“We’re are even having trouble sourcing hay ourselves and I can’t see it improving.
“The weather outlook is poor, just getting hotter and there’s talk of El Nino which is not good.”
Seasonal conditions worse than ever
“THINGS are bad now and they’ll probably only get worse.”
That’s the dire prediction from Chris Frisby from Bedwell’s Feed Barn in Bathurst.
Mr Frisby also runs a property near Perthville on the outskirts of Bathurst and has his finger on the pulse when it comes to all things rural.
“Everyone’s talking drought,” he said. “There’s old-timers saying the seasonal conditions are the worst they’ve ever seen ... even worse than the drought back in 1982,” Mr Frisby said.
“I’ve got seed oats here but it isn’t really selling. It’s too dry and I don’t think people are game enough to put it in.
“But I reckon it’s worth the gamble because when it grows it grows quick and stock need something for the winter.
“The stock don’t mind the heat and are handling it alright at the moment, but once it gets cold that’s when they get knocked around and really lose condition.”
Mr Frisby said there was also a scramble to get hay at the moment.
“I’ve got plenty but it’s expensive because you have to go so far to source it,” he said. “Small bales are $20 each and the last lot of round bales were $160. The next lot will be $180 each.
“ We’ve been going to the other side of Parkes to get lucerne hay and I also got four or five loads in from down in Victoria.”
Mr Frisby said farmers were selling stock to avoid handfeeding, but said that was a catch-22 situation.
“You get rid of your breeding stock now and then in six to 12 months’ time you are up for a small fortune to replace them,” he said.
Johnno Seaman runs Sid Newham Rural Supplies in Bathurst. Like Mr Frisby, he also runs a farm near Perthville, breeding cattle.
“The situation is pretty grim at the moment,” he said. “People are telling us in the shop they have never seen conditions get this bad.”
Meetings to discuss options
AN indication of the dire seasonal outlook facing farmers across the region is the new Local Land Services organisation calling public meetings to discuss options to cope with the situation they are now facing.
Central Tablelands LLS manager of biosecurity and emergency services, district vet Bruce Watt, said the move showed just how bad the situation was.
Mr Watt said there has been no drought declaration, but did say the conditions are of a serious concern.
“We’ve had little effective rain for months now,” he said. “Even those areas lucky enough to get thunderstorms previously face rapidly deteriorating conditions and there is also the problem of dams running dry.
“The situation is both challenging and stressful for anyone who owns livestock and given that we have no soil moisture, even if we do get some summer storms that may not be enough for pasture to respond to.”