We might look back in years to come and talk about the big dry of ’06.
But living through it was not easy. Those in the city may love the warm sunny days, but each day that dawns clear and each time weather reporters say ‘and another lovely fine day’ we cringe.
As the black clouds loom then pass us by we try not to worry too much, just sigh and look towards the next cold front however far away it might be.
For city dwellers I guess the worst they can expect is water restrictions. Most of them will still have their green lawns and long showers and swimming pools. For us thought it means so much more. The lawn is the first thing to go, as dams get lower. Showers get shorter; we cram more clothes into the washing machine, or reuse the water. Gardens die or just make do with less watering.
We watch the sky; we watch the weather report wondering if we should put a crop in nor not. Is such a huge expense going to be justified if it does not rain? Some crop anyway in the hope that it will rain eventually. Some leave it till the last possible moment, knowing the risk of cropping too late, but not knowing what else to do.
No one can give advice, no-one really knows.
Do you buy more feed at huge prices, or wait a bit longer hoping for rain. What if there is no feed available if you wait, already stocks are disappearing.
And if it doesn’t rain at all on a year like this, we don’t like to think about the consequences. If there is no summer feed for the following year what we will feed our stock on? Many people sell sheep, but after a while there will be no market for them. Then what? Do we shoot them by the hundreds and bury them in big holes as others have done in other years.
Do we watch them starve if feed is not available anywhere? How do we water them with our dams dry?
2006 was the worst ever for almost all of West Aust. Records were broken daily.
The driest months ever, the coldest nights ever, the warmest winter days ever. Not records we like to break. Financial losses were huge of course and will affect the price on many commodities. Even if city dwellers think it does not affect them it certainly does.
The price of meat, of bread, of transport, in fact just about everything will rise.
For people in a city job, what if your boss said to you, ‘Things are hard this year; you will have to take a 50% pay cut.” Off course it does not happen, but farmers simply bear the cost and keep working, we must. If we got paid by the hour our wages would be small indeed.
Off course we have good years. 2005 was a bumper year for many of us in our area, an early break, lots of rain, a late finish. Good crops, fat livestock, lots of wool.
2006 could not be more in contrast.
Even the weather bureau was baffled by the lack of rain. The worst thing was that the whole state was affected. Often one area may be having a dry start where others have had good rains. At least then there is always someone who wants to buy your stock, or can sell you some feed.
As well as the financial losses, there is the heartbreak of losing your stock. At the most risk are lambing ewes. You do your best; feed them as much as you can, check them constantly. Nothing however can really replace the nutrients they get from green feed, especially in late pregnancy and lactation. The weak ones get down and you dose them with glycerin, calcium and other nutrients, and stand them up again. If many of them are weak you will spend a lot of time going around the paddocks doing this. Some of them will die anyway or will need to be destroyed as they are obviously not going to get up no matter what you do. This is pregnancy toxemia, caused by lack of nutrition as they get ready to lamb.
Despite bad press farmers get, most of us do in reality care for our stock. They are our livelihood, we farm because we love animals, and mostly the stock gets a good life. They spend most of their lives grazing. For a few hours each year they are yarded in order to shear, crutch or drench them. The rest of the time they are grazing happily, or we spend hours each day in autumn hand feeding them. Some farmers can travel upward of 150km a day just to take feed to them. No-one enjoys destroying animals, and it can bring even the most hardened of farmers to tears to shoot the stock he has carefully reared and watched over.
It is heartbreaking to know we cannot give them the nutrients they require for complete health. Heartbreaking to have to sell so many of our flock, heartbreaking indeed to have to destroy some of them as there is nothing else we can do. We harden our hearts and move on. Some farmers have taken generations of careful breeding to build up a flock, a profitable line of sheep that have the desired constitution, wool cut and suitability for their particular area. To have to sell them or destroy them is like losing your family. To rebuild, if and when the drought finishes, is unthinkable. Once again farmers have to move on and start over.
2007 has been a good season, at least here in the southern areas of Western Australia. The break to the season was late but good rain in September/October has extended the growing season and feed is plentiful in the paddocks. We still feel the after effects of last year though, the price of feed has remained high, and as the drought continues in other areas of the state, stock is hard to sell. The high price of feed affects everything, eggs; all meat from beef to poultry, bread, any product that uses flour and even horse owners must bear huge prices to feed their animals.
I feel desperately for those in the northern areas of our state as they go into their 4th year of drought. I have no doubt that things will improve up there and it will rain again, but in the meantime farmers are struggling to survive. Also battling are farmers in other areas of Australia as drought continues year after year. Wherever it is, drought is the worst thing that we have to bear, causing heartbreak, depression, and financial hardship to many.
Most farmers will battle on though, despite all this. We love the lifestyle and it provides a certain amount of freedom in life. Fresh air, open spaces and closeness to animals and nature, why else would we continue to farm.
Our farm in winter.