Getting through drought together
Editorial written by Elders for the Summer 2020/2021 Seasons Magazine.
Elders has been central to communities that depend on sustained agricultural success since 1839. In this time, the core purpose of our business has always remained the same – to work alongside our clients to drive profitability and growth.
The value of this commitment, the strength of our people’s expertise and their willingness to go above and beyond for their clients is never more apparent than in times of crisis. North-east New South Wales endured one of these crises with a long and arduous drought that crippled producers, leading to widespread feed shortages and destocking throughout the region.
Kevin Mathews, who owns and runs Jiskardale outside of Walcha in the New England region, describes drought as “a most horrible time to be a grazier,” saying that “the responsibility of feeding animals through an exceptional time of scarcity is a heavy burden to carry alone.”
Kevin tells the story of how a chance meeting at a field day led to a long-term relationship with Elders Livestock Production Advisor, Adam Turnbull and Elders Walcha. He says he recognised immediately the value of the knowledge Adam had to help him get through trying seasons to come.
“After a couple of difficult seasons already the drought was biting hard and it was obvious that feeding my sheep was going to be a huge challenge over the coming months,” says Mathew.
“I knew feeding substantial amounts of grain was likely to be the best strategy. Despite forty-odd years of experience farming in the New England, I had never had to do this before on such a large scale and it was a steep learning curve on how to do it most effectively.”
“Adam was a great source of information and advice. He helped by initially assessing my struggling pastures and determining the nutritional requirements of the ewes that I had to lamb down in the coming spring.
“He provided the information and knowledge and together we formulated a plan with an increasing grain ration suitably buffered with the necessary supplements and minerals to provide them with a safe and effective ration.
“Adam and the Elders merchandise team at Walcha were immensely helpful at assisting me to source all the required grain and supplements. It was a terribly busy and expensive time teaching my sheep how to eat grain, a process not normally required at Walcha. The sheep that learnt to eat, did quite well and produced good lambs considering the season. The shy feeders really struggled.”
The severe drought continued through spring and summer and contributed to the savage bushfires in November which were burning all around Jiskardale. Weaning lambs early became a necessary step in negotiating this exceptional season. The next challenge was to set up feed yards to more efficiently feed the lambs directly.
“Adam again was an incredible resource with advice on the correct high protein ration and supplements for the lambs as well as basics like the type of troughing required, and drafting animals by size to prevent bullying,” says Mathew.
“Again, he assisted in sourcing this feed and gave practical advice that made all the difference.”
Fortunately, rain came at Christmas time and continued through the autumn. The feeding regime implemented meant that Mathews lambs were at an ideal store lamb weight of 35kg in Autumn; not a bad result all things considered.
“The store market was extreme, so I took the money at that time, $190/head, which helped offset my feeding costs,” says Mathew.
“Between rain events I managed to sow some country to a rye grass crop in March to help keep the good green feed going into the winter for my remaining stock – a luxury at Walcha.
“You might think that’s where the advice stopped too, but no. I was sceptical after spending so much money to get through the dry that Adam wanted me to keep putting a dry lick in front of my ewe lambs now on the good feed.
“His advice to this point had been good so I trusted him and bought the product. We changed to a starch and mineral balancing dry lick to supplement the green feed they were now getting from the grass. I have never seen growth rates like it in my lambs! They were easily growing at 300grams per day through the winter, gaining an average of 27kgs over this time.
“After such an extremely poor start to the season I have managed to get most of my ewe lambs up to joining weight by eight months of age and they have continued to grow rapidly right through joining.”
Mathew says that he believes his ewes are some of the best lambs he has ever grown and the property fully restocked. He credits much of this success to the quality advice and commitment from Adam and the team at Walcha.
“Farming these days is becoming an increasingly technical business with many different areas where you need to have good knowledge and a wide set of skills.”
“I am looking forward to the future with new confidence that with the help of the Elders team I can achieve the full potential of my livestock and my land in good seasons or bad. The addition of good people providing such good advice on livestock nutrition as well as agronomy is why I continue to use Elders exclusively for my livestock marketing as well as for most of my rural merchandise needs. Elders provides the whole package.”
Our thanks for this testimonial to Kevin Mathews, Lamb producer, “Jiskardale”, Walcha. August 2020.
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