Native pastures set to take off after good rain in Far West

Rainfall has been welcome and also extreme in some areas of the Far West. Fences and infrastructure were damaged east of White Cliffs in storms and flash floods. Photo by Leah Bailey.
Rainfall has been welcome and also extreme in some areas of the Far West. Fences and infrastructure were damaged east of White Cliffs in storms and flash floods. Photo by Leah Bailey.

Station holders can expect a big pasture kick-a-long from the significant rain event in the Far West in the last few weeks.

Mitchell grass, bladder saltbush and bluebush should all get an extra summer life from the rain if they are already in the paddock, Local Land Services (LLS) says.

Again the rain has been hit and miss west of the Darling River, with some properties getting significant falls, with Tibooburra getting record January falls (125mm), while it has been patchy in other areas.

The Darling River is finally in flood and property owners with frontage are rejoicing in this rare event.

There has also been significant damage in many areas from flashfloods and storms. Some stations have lost much of their boundary fencing.

Lachlan Gall, Langawirra, said wild weather in mid-January caused "significant wind damage to structures in the Broken Hill region coupled with flooding and severe hail damage west and north of Broken Hill."

"Later, intense thunderstorms generated up to five inches of torrential rain on 28 January in a narrow band extending from near Fowlers Gap to east of White Cliffs, resulting in severe flooding, stock losses and damage to infrastructure. Some properties are no longer stock proof, with floodwater flattening or washing many kilometres of fencing away. There is also massive damage to earthworks, including on-property water infrastructure and public roads maintained by Transport for NSW in the Unincorporated Far West and around White Cliffs in the Central Darling Shire region. Some of the damage is of a scale that has never been experienced before."

The rain has also brought numerous new opportunities, including cereal crops at Mt Hope and Euston.

Western LLS senior land services officer Tanisha Shields said station holders that had pasture before the rain came, would see a considerable pick up in the next two weeks in native grasses, especially Mitchell grass.

It came down hard out near White Cliffs. Photo by Leah Bailey.

It came down hard out near White Cliffs. Photo by Leah Bailey.

Ms Shields some of the rain was patchy with one area of a property getting rain, and another part none.

"But there definitely will be pasture relief for anything that's already in the paddock. It should be high quality palatable feed."

The rain will allow some cereal cropping at Mt Hope and out at Euston, she said.

Western LLS district vet Zi Yi Lim advised stock owners to take it cautiously putting stock into new green feed as it may cause metabolic issues and even pulpy kidney if done too quickly.

Dr Zi Yi advises a three week transition period before putting stock into the new feed. It was also important to keep stock vaccinated, and to keep an eye out for toxic weeds such as pigweed or button grass. Bloat is also a problem if stock are on green pick too quickly.

Mr Gall gave an overview of the situation in the Far West, saying goat numbers seemed to be firm.

"At the other end of the scale, a number of properties didn't record any rain whatsoever in the recent events and remain very dry. One property that missed out is Corona Station, approximately 75kms north of Broken Hill. Some places in the drier areas have been feeding out hay in recent months, or have livestock away on agistment now that there has been rain elsewhere and agistment is once again available as a drought management option," he said.

"So, the overall picture in the far west is mixed. Some livestock is going on agistment, some is coming home from agistment, some properties have built their livestock numbers back up to close to average numbers, others are still very lightly stocked.

A stock agent commented to me a couple of months ago that sheep numbers in the area were about 60-70% of average, but cattle numbers were still low at about 20% of average. a few sheep did come into the region from Western Australia 12 months ago, but for a couple of buyers the season turned on them and the sheep were traded out after a period of time. The focus now seems to be for pastoralists to breed their way out of the current situation, as buying breeders in is an expensive option for families that have had a lean time of it over the past few years.

"Naturally, the economic drought lingers on after the physical drought fades, with sheep breeding enterprises requiring about 12 months to generate income and cattle enterprises even longer, so for many pastoralists cashflow is still recovering.

"Goat numbers across the far west appear to be firm. Paddock and wild goats have had two good kiddings in the past 12 months or so. A run of dry weather and warm days across December and January saw wild goats being trapped on water, but this option has dissolved with the recent rain. Liveweight goat prices eased 20c/kg to 400c/kg in recent weeks on the back of big numbers coming in, increased transport and cold storage costs and reduced processing capacity associated with COVID-19, but recent rain may serve to reduce the numbers that are coming forward.

"Kangaroo numbers are much reduced from the record highs reached in 2016, with western NSW now littered with the skeletons of roos that perished during the drought. Numbers currently sit at much more sustainable levels, but every doe has a joey at foot and another in the pouch. Kangaroo harvesters are having to work all night for a load, but are being well rewarded by prices in the range of 130-160c/kg, well up on prices paid only a couple of years ago."