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Managing for a dry season

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I recently was chatting with a bunch of people at a neighbours place and the conversation was largely about the weather; how dry it’s been and if it’s likely to rain soon. The general consensus was that it’s a disaster, the worst season ever, etc. In fact we haven’t had any significant rain for about 3 months, but we had plenty leading up to that and the country should be able to handle a relatively brief dry spell. We live in Australia after all.

I mentioned that things weren’t all that terrible at my place, and we’d be OK for another month or so. An older stock and station agent replied, “Aren’t you lucky.” Not feeling like an argument, I bit my tongue, but the immediate response that came to mind was, “It’s got nothing to do with luck, just good management.”

We don’t have a regular pattern of rainfall here; we accept that and manage accordingly. A 3 month dry spell is not unusual, and the fact that it was over winter and on the back of one of the wettest autumns in memory made it less of a problem. Some rain about now would certainly be welcome and spring would look really good if it comes, but if not, we have plans in place to get through a dry spring.

The first step, starting this week is to spend some time with the cows helping them find good grazing areas. There are some pretty inaccessible valleys and steep areas which don’t dry out as fast as the rest of the place but the cows have a hard time finding them. It’s a fair walk and they need to return every day or so for water, so they usually need to be taken there two or three times before they get the hang of it.

If things go really bad later in the year, we’ll resort to scrub feeding; which is cutting down fast growing trees to provide green fodder. Most of the trees we use for drought fodder are declared weeds, so there’s no problem cutting them down. These are introduced deciduous trees with high protein content and we use some wattles, which grow like weeds around here, to add roughage.

Merino sheep, being a dryland animal, handle the dry feed a lot better than cattle, the lambs may slip back a little, but they need less help to cope with drought.

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