They have sold whatever stock they can and spend their entire days at the moment feeding the cattle that remains because the pastures have dried up. Farmers in this part of NSW are importing almost all food for their livestock from as far away as South Australia as prices rise with demand.
The continued cost of buying feed is causing many to question their future on the land. Jess Taylor and her husband, Robert, are fourth-generation farmers, running a mixed sheep and cattle farm 25km north-west of Coonabarabran.
They are raising four children, two not yet in school, while dealing with the stress of nearly two years without substantial rain. Robert left the property recently to take up shearing work to bring in much-needed cash, leaving Jess to manage the farm and care for their children on her own. The ewes on the property are abandoning their lambs because the dry pastures and lack of food have reduced their ability to produce enough milk. Charities such as Buy a Bale, where people can purchase hay bales for local farmers, have been some assistance.
While much of NSW experienced a wet start to winter, the dark skies over Coonabarabran have yet to deliver relief. The Jerry family, also fourth-generation farmers, run sheep and cattle on their property Maryborough, 40km north-east of Coonabarabran. At the head of the family is Coral Jerry, 80, who lives on the farm alone after her husband of 55 years died in She is hand-feeding 40 orphaned lambs four to five times a day while her son Greg, his wife, Tanya, and their son Brett manage the farm.
About 5am, the cranking of diesel engines shatters the stillness of the early morning Jerilderie air. In the sky above, the blood moon struggles to escape from the encroaching cloud cover that crept in overnight.
Cockerell is among the early risers, holding court with a coterie of veteran truckers who have colonised the hour BP roadhouse, devouring breakfasts and coffee. There are 18 prime movers hauling some bales. To understand the level of altruism among Need for Feed hay runners, one need not look beyond the year-old Muswellbrook owner-driver Michael Wheeler.
He only created his haulage business last October and since then it has grown exponentially, running four rigs and employing several drivers. I was heading back from South Australia and this guy asks me if I can pick up some hay. Now he is almost exclusively running hay between four states.
It is a lucrative business but it can be all over in a heartbeat Armstrong, a fine wool merino sheep farmer on the outskirts of Cassilis, endured the Sir Ivan bushfire 18 months ago that turned his property into an inferno. He is one of odd recipients of this latest hay run. Forty kilometres away, just shy of Merriwa, sits a tiny weatherboard farmhouse on a barren hilltop. On the veranda, Charlie and Sheryl Brazier are having their morning cuppa.
Outside, there is barely a blade of grass left on the surrounding hills. I ask Charlie if the fodder run comes to them. Someone put our name down, thank goodness.
Charlie, who is 83, can only just manage to swing a bale over the low-lying fence to feed an eagerly awaiting mob of lambs. Sheryl is busy sweeping out the pellet troughs. Together, they supply the sustenance necessary to keep their lambs alive and get them market-ready. Watching the flock chase a freshly delivered bale, Charlie says: We can build a shed or put in a silo.
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