Most years around this time, I would be writing about our harvest; about how the weather has turned and we can feel Autumn is on its way. Except that this year the weather hasn’t really turned. It’s still warm during the day, and although the nights are a little cooler, it still hasn’t rained much either.
A hail storm back in December, combined with too little rain and too much heat has meant that our fruit and vegetable harvest is not up to its usual standard. Yes, we have too many tomatoes, but not so many that I never want to see another one. I didn’t get to pickle any cucumbers at all this year after a hot day sizzled them all. In the orchard, our stonefruit trees have also suffered and our harvest is well down on last year. C has been so busy keeping the farm going, that the garden and orchard have had to take a backseat. The smaller harvest makes us appreciate just how much we have had in the past and how much we have come to rely on the garden to provide our food.
In the paddocks, we are seeing the full effects of the drought. There is virtually no grass or plants on the ground save a few tenacious, sad looking weeds that the sheep won’t touch, and big old trees that have been in the paddocks for as long as anyone can remember, are dying. When I go for an evening walk, I notice the bare earth and dusty sheep, and I take photos so I can see the changes from week to week.
C is feeding the sheep several times a week to make sure they stay healthy. Each time it involves hitching the feed bin to the ute then filling it from one of the silos on top of the hill, before driving a well-worn path around the farm, laying a trail of grain in each paddock for the sheep to eat. The sheep see him coming and eagerly run after ute. They know their tucker is coming! On the weekends the kids will go with C or his father and open the gates, making the job just that little bit quicker and easier as well as giving them someone to talk to.
Every few weeks those silos need refilling and a big bill comes in for all that grain, and we cross our fingers that we get some decent rain soon so we don’t need to feed sheep all year.
Each time the sheep are driven by the house on the way to the yards, a great cloud of dust wafts towards the house, finds it’s way inside and settles in a thick layer of red/brown grime, or else it continues to drift on the breeze, taking our topsoil to who knows where.
When ever we meet other locals, the talk inevitably turns to the weather. They talk about monotony of feeding sheep, and the likelihood of rain. They compare this drought to previous ones, and say that this is the worst one they remember. They talk about how they don’t listen to the news anymore because it just makes them feel worse, and that The Land (rural newspaper) is just as bad. Farmers are generally optimistic folk – you have to be to survive a tough business like this. They talk about when the drought breaks, knowing in their head that it will have to one day, even if they don’t feel it in their hearts.
And yet we are doing better than most. Our house tanks are still fairly full, thanks to our large roof, and while our dams are on the low side, we are not about to run out of water in the paddocks yet. We are fortunate that I have a good off-farm job that provides our family with a regular income so that we don’t have to rely on the farm for all our needs. Although the workload of feeding sheep and getting all the jobs done is big, C shares it with his father, and they can step in for one and other and give each other a break. Our farm is not so big as to take every waking moment of every day in a struggle to stay afloat. We know how lucky we are.
Droughts aren’t broken by one good rainstorm. We need regular rain at the right times for the ground to recover and grass to grow. Even when it does rain (and I’m telling myself it will), there will be lingering effects for many farmers. The grain to feed the animals has put a big dent in the operating costs. Many farmers have destocked and it takes time to build up your flocks and herds again.
Since writing the above, the weather has turned a little. It is definitely getting cooler at last, and we’ve had a little rain – not nearly enough. There is a thin sheen of green over the land, but it’s only thin. It’s not nearly enough to feed the stock and we desperately need good follow up rain regularly over the next couple of months.
This is just my thoughts and experiences of the drought in our area. I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of drought or speak for other farmers about this issue!