Lean Times

We’re heading for the end of summer and we can’t remember the last time it rained properly. We’ve had little bits and pieces over the last six months, but never quite enough to really get things going. Right through spring and now summer, the paddocks have just been keeping up; every time they get a little bit of moisture and the grasses, etc, start to grow, we get another week of plus 40 degrees and dry westerly winds and it all falls over again. It’s been a lousy season, but we haven’t considered ourselves to be in drought until a couple of weeks ago, when things just tipped over a threshold.

Our farm is as always limited by the amount of water we can get into the ground. It can do amazing things in the occasional really wet season, but that’s the exception, not the rule, so we do the best we can to make the best use of the water we have. Making the decision to “declare ourselves in drought” means a shift in the way we manage the place and the animals. We typically view ourselves as managing a self supporting ecosystem; we observe and tweak things here and there, but try not to intervene too much. Now we’ve moved to a mindset where we are the primary carers for all our animals. That means finding feed for them on an almost daily basis and making sure water points are adequate. Some days this requires spending the day on a horse pushing the cows up mountains into scrubby areas where they normally wouldn’t go, to find a south facing, tree covered hillside that doesn’t get hammered by the sun and wind, so still has some soft green grasses and herbs; other days we grab a chainsaw and cut some of the edible weed trees for them. We put aside all the other things we do, such as regenerative work, and focus solely on keeping the animal alive and healthy.

The sheep don’t suffer as much as the cattle, as sheep have the neat ability to recycle urea from their urine, back into protein. This allows them to live on the dry standing feed for a lot longer than cattle can, but even dry feed is in short supply at the moment. We had a little bit of rain on Monday this week, and the prediction is for a bit more on the weekend, but it doesn’t look like being anywhere near enough to get creeks running and ground water recharged, so for the time being we remain in a drought mindset.

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