Learn­ing to take the dry one day at a time

Tak­ing it one day at a time

The Western Star - - RURAL WEEKLY - CAS­SAN­DRA GLOVER Cas­san­dra.glover@ru­ral­weekly.com.au

THE Hamels’ se­cret to sur­viv­ing the drought is to take it day by day.

Cathy and John Hamel farm sheep and cat­tle near Texas, on the bor­der of Queens­land and New South Wales.

Mrs Hamel said af­ter the pre­vi­ous drought they looked at ways to make their prop­erty more sus­tain­able.

“We dug out all our dams ready for the good sea­son.

“Go­ing back to the floods of 2011, we didn’t get the rain­fall but we got the wa­ter from up­river.

“But by 2014 we had our cat­tle back on the road again. It was con­tin­u­ously not pro­duc­ing the rain we needed.

“We didn’t ac­tively go out and make plans to pre­pare for the next drought, we just looked at ways to make our prop­erty more sus­tain­able and build our num­bers back up again.”

Mrs Hamel said they learned a lot from the pre­vi­ous dry.

“With the last drought we did de­stock but we tried to hold onto a lot and keep them go­ing. But we ended up ba­si­cally giv­ing them away. We just kept the breed­ers on the road dur­ing the day to feed and take them back at night to wa­ter,” she said.

“When it came time again and it was look­ing very dry again and the fore­cast was look­ing bleak, my hus­band de­cided to un­load all our cat­tle in one sea­son.

“We have 12 heifers left out of a mob of 60-odd cat­tle. They’re on ag­ist­ment at the mo­ment.

“And we have a core of about 150 breed­ing ewes. We’ve kept some wethers back for wool pro­duc­tion, but they ba­si­cally look af­ter them­selves.”

The Hamels put in a new dam two years ago in prepa­ra­tion for the good times.

“It’s never been filled,” Mrs Hamel said.

“In the four or five years since we’ve dug the oth­ers out dur­ing the last drought they’ve never been full again ei­ther.”

Mrs Hamel said some re­cent rain had pro­vided a lit­tle re­prieve.

“We’ve had bits and pieces. Our big­gest fall was 18mm a few weeks ago. We’ve had other falls of 6-8mm, just enough to keep the green go­ing for the sheep,” she said.

“We’ve ac­tu­ally been able to stop feed­ing in the last two or three weeks be­cause they’ve had the spring flush, but be­fore that we were feed­ing dif­fer­ent mobs ev­ery day.

“In per­spec­tive, I think there are a lot of peo­ple worse off than we are.

“Be­cause we live on the river we were able to make lucerne for years be­fore­hand, and we stopped sell­ing it be­cause we needed it for our­selves.

“So we didn’t have to buy hay but we had to buy corn and pel­lets. But we have been able to stop in the last few weeks.”

The Hamels aren’t look­ing to re­stock just yet.

“We will prob­a­bly try and main­tain the lev­els we’ve got,” Mrs Hamel said.

“But if it gets worse again, there’s not much more we can off­load ex­cept dig­ging into our breed­ing stock.

“We just go day by day, you can’t look too far ahead.

“You can’t plan things be­cause you have to see if it rains first.”

Mrs Hamel said this was the worst drought she’d ex­pe­ri­enced.

“It’s been the worst be­cause of the lack of wa­ter. We have had rain all the way through, but not the rain to fill the wa­ter stor­ages,” she said.

“Back in 2015 we had a de­cent year but not the wa­ter – it was just enough to keep the grass green.

“But this year the ground has just turned to dust.

“I can re­mem­ber back in 1994, my father-in-law owned the place then. We were go­ing out and feed­ing cot­ton­seed. There was no grass but the dams had wa­ter.”

Mrs Hamel has kept her job at the Texas Hos­pi­tal to help sup­port them through the dry.

“I’ve had that job for 30 years. I was work­ing there when I met my hus­band but I’ve never given the job up,” she said.

“I’ve dropped down to part time but I kept it and I’m so glad I did be­cause it’s our only source of in­come in the hard times.

“I would be bud­get­ing down to the last dol­lar.

“I was work­ing three days a week but I felt that I couldn’t help out or con­tribute here (on the farm), so I dropped down a day so I could help out here more.

“Now that we’ve laid off the feed­ing a lit­tle bit we’re not as busy, so I’ll go back to work­ing three days again. And if it gets bad again, I’ll re­assess.

“We did have a wool clip, we shore some sheep be­fore we sold them. So that has kept us go­ing.”

Hav­ing a hol­i­day is some­thing most farm­ers don’t get to think about dur­ing the drought.

Mrs Hamel said she and her hus­band were lucky to have four days off this year.

“We had a long week­end in Au­gust. Our daugh­ter and son-in-law came and stayed so we could go away for the week­end. It was my birth­day,” she said.

“But we haven’t had a hol­i­day in years, prob­a­bly since the kids were at school.

“Our kids are ask­ing what we’re do­ing for Christ­mas and we say ‘prob­a­bly noth­ing’ be­cause we can’t leave.

“If they want to see us, they have to come out here.”


SMALL RE­PRIEVE: The Hamels’ new dam is half full, the fullest it's been since it was built two years ago.


John and Cathy Hamel.

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