Trevor Caithness, who runs 500 breeding cows, and grows cereal crops, with wife Carryn and son Toby, said this is the driest it has ever been in their 15 years of farming in the district.
“It’s been a difficult year all the way through, but we were very fortunate that we had about 60 millimetres of rain in April, that was really what got the crops established,” Mr Caithness said.
“All the way through winter, it was ridiculously dry to a point where we had 160 hectares of new pasture that we put in, and by the time it got to September, we had patches on it that were blowing dust.”
He said they got through half of the year on their reserves of hay and silage.
“Since then, we’ve been buying feed, we’ve bought quite a few semi loads of hay from northern Victoria, just carting them down as we need them,” he said.
“All of our cattle are in very forward condition, but we have put a lot of hay into them to keep them like that.”
The Caithness family sell cattle directly to Coles under its Graze label, normally at about 13 months of age, and at 240-250 kilograms dressed weight.
Mr Caithness said they started turning off steers and heifers to Coles at the end of August, sending a load a week up until the first week of November.
“We managed to fatten all of our grassfed steers and heifers, and they’re now all gone, so that’s now lightened the load, and made some room for the cows, who have calves at foot at the moment,” he said.
He said they will ensure cattle are up to standard for next year.
“We will just endeavour to supplement the cattle in whatever way necessary to get our cattle to the weights and the standards and the quality that Coles will be looking for,” he said.
He said recent rain of about 90mm helped with their summer crop that had just been planted.
“We’d got about 1000 acres in before the rain, so it should really help to get them up and out of the ground,” he said.
He said they had been able to get the summer crop in a couple of weeks earlier than normal due to the season.
“Because it had been so dry, all of our crops had gone through their growth stages a lot quicker than normal, and finished off a lot quicker than normal because they were so moisture stressed,” he said.
“So we were able to harvest about two weeks earlier than we normally would.”
He said quality was still on par with other average years.
“We’ve been very proactive in using a lot of calcium, lime, and trace elements in our soils, and trying to have some good stubble retention over several years,” he said.
“And I believe we’re actually just starting to get some soils that are robust and managing to handle these slightly more difficult seasons.
“It’s extremely encouraging to have a year that looks like it’s going to be one of the driest years on record for us, and our barley yields are looking like they’ll be similar to an average season.”
He said if they get rain over summer, the benefits will flow through.
“If we do have a wet summer, we’ll grow enough feed to feed all of our livestock without any need for hay or silage,” he said.
“It will be good because the cattle will have just finished grazing stubbles by the time the crops come through.”