Green drought sparks lamb challenge

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Green drought sparks lamb challenge

The Limestone Coast region’s low rainfall, frosty evenings and threatening green drought have created an additional challenge for local sheep farmers with the trying conditions making newborn lambs more vulnerable.

Due to the lack of feed on the ground, farmers are seeing ewes in lighter condition when giving birth, in turn leading to weaker lambs as well as ewes abandoning their newborns in a bid to look after themselves.

These circumstances have lamb rescuers such as Millicent’s Toni Greenwood left to raise more lambs than ever, with a record 55 lambs in her care this season.

Adding to the challenges, the current cost of living is also having a heavy strain on rescuers with a bag of essential milk powder that used to cost Mrs Greenwood $92 a bag 12 months ago having increased in price by more than 50%, now costing $148 for the same product.

Mount Gambier Combined Agents Chair Chris Manser said the poorer condition of lambs has likely caused more losses compared to last year’s lambing season.

“I think where the lamb losses have occurred is with some flocks that have been a little bit lower in condition and the lambs have been smaller and lighter,” he said.

Mr Manser said the ongoing green drought has also caused more farmers to destock their cattle and sheep.

“A lot of farmers at the moment have de-stocked, they have sold surplus cows that have lost calves and have not calved so those animals are gone,” he said.

“They most probably have not carried as many animals now they normally would because they have had to sell them because have not had the feed and that is really to hopefully retain that breeding quality so they can keep their businesses running.

“Particularly with cattle, hopefully some of those first and second year calvers which are always the hardest ones to get back in calf, if they are low in condition, maybe there will be more empty cows around next year than we would normally have.”

Mr Manser said it had been a tough season for local farmers so far.

“Generally speaking, most years between June and July and possibly the middle of

August are our hardest months in that it is cold and wet normally and you do not get a lot of growth in your feed and this year is going to be no exception because we have not had the rain to get that growth,” he said.

“We have not really had an opening rain, we have had spits and spats and starts. It has been green but there is no growth.

“We had a very poor spring last year so we headed into the start of the year with a very low feed base and we basically did not get an autumn break.

“We virtually have not had a winter break other than (recently) when the region reported the old inch to inch and a half of rain which was absolutely fantastic.

“It certainly has put a bit more confidence in the farmers that we have had a nice rain now but we certainly need follow up rain and we also need a bit of sun at this time of the year to get the growth.”

Mr Manser said it was going to continue to be tough for farmers for the next 4-6 weeks but they remained hopeful the green drought will end heading into spring.

“Hopefully we will start getting into our spring weather and get the growth as long as we get the rain,” he said.

“It has been a tough year, there is no question about that. It has been one of the toughest years we have had for quite some time. In fact, some of the older fellas are relating to 1967 in that it is a very similar season to then.

“We could look back on this season and say ‘it was a very, very tough start but it has ended nicely’.

“If we can get those good September/October rains, we will come out of this okay. We will get that spring and that fodder growth and hopefully be able to replace the hay stocks because the hay situation is very low at present and there is not too much hay left in any shed around the South East.

“There is a lot of confidence out there that we will get our normal spring rains and the season could end up being an average to good season.”

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