The drought – much has been learnt already – November 2019.
For the last three months, Leading Sheep has circulated an e-mail each month summarising what Queensland sheep producers have learnt from the drought and asking for your feedback. We invited you to send in your learnings and ideas to your local Leading Sheep Coordinator. We have had great feedback and some of these responses are below:
- Droughts are stressful. Look after yourself and your family and friends.
- It is easy for everything to get on top of you and for you to put off making critical decisions. Make dates to reassess stock and feed conditions and stick to them. Stock need to be kept in reasonable order to keep options open. If you can’t afford to feed to keep stock in productive order, you can’t afford not to sell them. Stock need to be strong enough to walk in the mud for a week if that’s how the drought breaks.
- Cottonseed is easy to feed, but not a balanced diet. You can assist your animals with lots of options for the first few months of drought, but by 6 months you need to be really trying to meet their needs carefully. If animals are short of energy in their diet they slip fast. Freight is expensive, so freight the best quality supplement you can, remembering stock on different country can have very different needs.
- Keep a good conversation going with your banker. They also want us to succeed, but still need a reminder now and then to keep interest rates down. When absorbed with drought issues, things like this are easy to overlook, and the margin your bank assigns to your finance can get expensive if you do not request this to be reduced. I am amazed at the variation in interest rates the same bank can charge different clients.
- Keep on top of total grazing pressure. Never underestimate the grazing pressure of kangaroos while pasture is growing, and this obviously translates to feed availability later.
- Regardless of drought, assess the pasture constantly to determine the carrying capacity for the following 4 to 6 weeks.
- Where possible, avoid feeding stock. Rather, destock early to give remaining livestock the best chance with the pasture on hand. Should you want to gamble with the weather and feed; calculate the cost of substitute feeding versus the animal’s actual cost per head. If it costs more than their value, sell them. Otherwise feed them until they reach that determined dollar value per head. Take everything into consideration (wool, meat and potential lambs).
- Hindsight tells me personally that it would have been easier and less stressful to destock early. Feeding not only hurt our bank balance significantly but it also led to all ground cover on our pastures being removed through overgrazing. This means we will now need even more rain than previously required, to recover from drought.
John Cuskelly (John explained that his direct experience was with cattle but the same issues would apply with sheep):
- After 2007 I worked out I would have been much better off if I had sold my cattle and put all my energies into re-fencing (which was in a bad state of repair).
- The time spent on drought feeding must be costed!!
- Plan ahead:
- If we haven’t had a break by 1st of July I will ….
- If we haven’t had a break by 1st of September I will ….
- If we haven’t had a break by 1st of November I will ….
These do not have to be strictly adhered to, but don’t get a few months down the track and then start to wonder what to do.
Leading Sheep will circulate more of your thoughts and ideas over the upcoming months.
Do you have a learning or lesson you would like to share?
There is still plenty of time for you to contribute your thoughts and ideas to your local Leading Sheep Coordinator:
- North and Central West – Ingrid Miller: firstname.lastname@example.org 0467 566 728
- South West – Hannah McKillop: email@example.com 0419 954 738
- South – Noel O’Dempsey: firstname.lastname@example.org (07) 4653 1441
If typing an e-mail is a challenge, please telephone. Your responses will be collated and circulated, anonymously if you so choose. Please keep your responses short – no more than five lines per idea.
While the next drought is never the same as the last, Leading Sheep felt we should collate these great learnings whilst they were still fresh in your minds.