Sheep and cattle numbers have been stripped off Flinders Island, Tasmania, in recent months, as producers endure tough seasonal conditions with no affordable way to source feed.
In October, almost every producer on the island destocked portions of their herds and flocks, with thousands being offloaded every week.
The Cooper family, ‘Wandella’, Lackrana, Tas, were quick to react, destocking the majority of their herd, except for the cows and calves, in August, as the season had well and truly slipped away.
John Cooper said their spring failed, and now the season was running two months early.
They are still hoping for rain as they head into summer with only two-thirds of their average annual rainfall.
John Cooper said buying in feed was too expensive, so during tough times, he had always taken the destocking approach.
“It’s difficult and not cost-efficient to get feed in from Victoria or Tasmania,” Mr Cooper said.
He said his property requires high rainfall to combat strong winds.
The Cooper family run an Angus breeding and fattening operation, where they sell two year-olds directly to Greenham, Smithton, Tas.
He said buying cattle in once the season broke would be too difficult because of the isolation of the island.
He would endeavour to fatten the calves for as long as he could.
“They’ll grow up and we’ll run the steers to 600 kilograms, and see how we go,” he said.
He said if things got more dire, he would sell them as store cattle instead.
“It just depends on the season,” he said.
He guessed it would not rain again until next May, but said because he had destocked early, he should be able to make it to then.
It was not the first time rainfall totals had been this dire on the Coopers’ property.
Mr Cooper recalled bad droughts in both 2002 and 2005, and said things managed to improve after both of those.
Bureau of Meteorology climatologist Ian Barnes-Keoghan said the April to October period was crucial for rain on Flinders Island, which was when it had been its driest this year.
Mr Barnes-Keoghan said the average rainfall total for most parts of the island was 500 millimetres, but most places had only recorded about 350mm so far this year.
He said while there had been drier years on the island, these totals “definitely put it up there in terms of dry years”.
He said 2008 was a particularly dry year, with only 250-260mm recorded in most places, which was half the long-term average.
Recent rainfall has been welcomed on the island, but it has not been anything substantial.
Mr Barnes-Keoghan estimated on average 30mm was received on most parts of the island.
He said it was good to get moisture into the top of the soil, but without a build up of moisture, everything was still under stress.
“It’s good to get some rain, but even a significant rainfall event isn’t going to turn around that long-term deficit quickly,” he said.
He said it had been windy in the last week, and as it heads into a warmer time of year, these windy days would become more common.