Michael and Anne Headon are conditioned to farming sheep under drought conditions.
Prior to moving their sheep breeding operation to North Waldaira, 25 kilometres west of Balranald, NSW, they farmed in the more remote Ivanhoe district which Mr Headon described as cruel, and very harsh when times were tight but absolutely abundant after rains had fallen.
Their move south to the 50,000-acre Balranald property was made nine years ago.
And in that time they managed to re-establish their Alma-blood breeding flock following the total destocking of their Ivanhoe operation in 2004 when both water and feed ran out.
“Water is fine this time,” he said.
“It is piped from the Murrumbidgee River but our feed is running thin. We’ve had less than 50 millimetres in the last 12 months with our largest fall being 10mm a month ago.”
Selling two age groups of their breeding flock at Swan Hill this week, which included their future replacement ewe lambs and six year-old ewes, Mr Headon said the burning question now was whether to let their rams out for ewe joining.
“We would need to fluke at least 50mm in a thunderstorm before the end of the year to do that,” he said.
“We’ve done some sums and we figure it would cost $25,000 per month once they started to feed ewes if they were joined.
“We only have the two, three and four year-olds to manage (the five year-olds were sold privately a month ago) and we can get through by spreading the remaining flock across the property.
“Without the pressure of lambing these ewes will survive. And the receipts from their wool – estimated at $70-$75 per head after costs – will be adequate income so it is hard to justify putting the additional pressure of lambing on the ewes as we could eventually lose both.”
Mr Headon said a lot of sheep breeders in western NSW would be in the same boat.
Lambing percentages this year he said were horrific, with the best around 70 per cent and most, 50pc or lower.
Whatever eventuates he says it will take three years to self-replace breeding flocks after the break.
And buying in any top up numbers for most wouldn’t be a consideration as prices would be expected to sky-rocket if the break was general.