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Beating the bush

Monday, 22nd July, 2019

Broken Hill producer Michael Anderson with his wife Britt and two daughters Lillian (left) and Ivy. PICTURE: Supplied Broken Hill producer Michael Anderson with his wife Britt and two daughters Lillian (left) and Ivy. PICTURE: Supplied

By Callum Marshall

With the country currently going through one of its worst ever droughts, producers are having to find new ways in order to get by. And for Broken Hill producer Michael Anderson, droving sheep in Charleville, Queensland, has helped keep his operation alive.

Residing 180km north-east of Broken Hill is Cymbric Vale Station, the Anderson family property where Michael Anderson’s wife and two daughters currently reside.

While the family has remained on the property with 1100 ewes, Michael has been travelling around the region, droving a large group of 2,500 White Dorpers to areas where rain, and subsequently feed, is good.

“It stopped raining (at the station) in October 2016 and we haven’t had any meaningful rain since then,” said Michael.

“We’ve done a lot of different things, agistment, feeding, shifting sheep to a little farm down south. We’ve tried it.

“But when they had this rain up there (in Charleville), we knew the feed would be good.

“So we put an application in (with the two shires up there) and went up and had a look at it, and it looked good, so away we went.

“The approvals came within a week of putting in the application and then I went up there and had a look at the route itself (to) see what the feed was like and how we were going to get around it.

“We’ve been up there six weeks now.”

Michael, who also has a long-term business plan at a dairy farm down in South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, said he shifted everything across to the family property and then to the stock route in Charleville when good rains came down in the Queensland region. 

“We shifted sheep down there (to South Australia) in November 2017 and were feeding (them) there because you’re close to the feed resource, close to the hay,” he said.

“We had a few showers up here (though, which) spread a little bit of water around, nothing major.

“So when this job came up we shifted everything back here and then shifted them up to the stock route.” 

He said the decision to head up to Charleville was about survival, of keeping the operation going for as long as possible.

“People are hanging on by their fingernails,” said Michael.

“At the moment, there’s still no real end in sight. 

“The Bureau (of Meteorology) is not talking up the weather at all and there’s really no feed reserves on the ground whatsoever from what I’ve seen.

“There’s 20,000 head of cattle up (at the Charleville stock route) roaming around at the same time, so I don’t know how much longer those routes will stay open.

“But once the feed starts to run out, the shires will shut them.

“We’ll probably run another month to five weeks up there and then we’ll have to be off ourselves.

“It’s just a matter of survival, about keeping our breeding sheep alive until we can get some rain down here and come home.

“Whatever you can do to get your sheep through so that when it rains, hopefully, you can turn a dollar.”

Like many producers, the Andersons wait for sustained rainfall that seems unlikely to come in the near future.

“We’re probably going to end up with about 3,000 ewes at the moment, maybe a few more, (when) we generally (tend to) run 4,000 to 4,500 ewes (in an average season)” said Michael.

“(The weather’s) just shredded the business basically.

“When you get a downpour you might get twenty or thirty (millimetres), but we need rains of 50 mm and then another 25 to 50 mm a couple of weeks later.

“There needs to be sustained rain over months, not just isolated incidents.

“You can’t go forever. You can’t keep spending money and have no income. 

“Something’s going to have to turn in our favour or you don’t know where you’re going to land.”

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