Hanging in there

Hughenden family rides out drought while neighbours flooded

Stock and Land Beef
Alan and Stacy McConachy and two of their children, Brodie and MacKenzie, say they're used to playing the waiting game.

Alan and Stacy McConachy and two of their children, Brodie and MacKenzie, say they're used to playing the waiting game.

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Monsoon rain flooded properties 15 kilometres from the McConachy family at Barenya near Hughenden, but they didn't receive enough to break the drought

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Imagine recording 87 millimetres from a whole rainfall event when properties almost over the boundary fence were receiving that amount every hour.

Then imagine the creek coming up so fast you lose a pile of cattle from floodwaters erupting across your dry paddocks.

That's what happened to Hughenden's Alan and Stacy McConachy, and about a dozen other landholders south of the town during February's disastrous monsoon event in northern Queensland.

"Landsborough Creek came up so quickly from rain further up, that's how we lost cattle," Mr McConachy said. "The good rain was about 15 kilometres away - the tap just turned off here."

The couple is part of a family partnership that also owns country at McKinlay, where they sustained a $300,000 loss of cattle from hypothermia, and at Mount Isa, which had an excellent season.

They believe they have been lucky though, thanks to having a spread of country that hopefully isn't affected by the same weather conditions at the same time.

"We can shuffle things around - we were able to send breeders back to Ashover at Mount Isa after February's rain," Mr McConachy said. "Friends of ours lost up to 5000 head of cattle - I don't know how you come back from that."

It's that sort of positive mindset that has seen them through plenty of other setbacks, such as the grasshopper plague that ravaged the small amount of grass grown from early storms the previous December that they were harbouring protectively.

"You wonder if the end of the world is coming, when you have drought, then floods, then plagues of grasshoppers but it's all just part of a cycle isn't it," Mr McConachy said.

For Ms McConachy, they were at the stage of looking at each other when a shower of rain began and preparing for it only to last a minute or two.

"It's a rollercoaster - what it does to your head is not good," she said.

Alan, Stacy, Brodie and MacKenzie McConachy and some of the breeders they have left at Barenya, south of Hughenden.

Alan, Stacy, Brodie and MacKenzie McConachy and some of the breeders they have left at Barenya, south of Hughenden.

Mr McConachy added that it was OK when everyone was dry but was more of a struggle when some were getting rain and others weren't.

They arrived at Barenya in 2008 when there were good rainfall totals - 475mm in 2009, 800mm in 2010, and 600mm in 2012.

The totals since then have been dismal - 125mm in 2013, 137mm in 2014, 122mm in 2015, 150mm in 2016, 175mm in 2017, and 200mm last year.

On the positive side, the totals have been rising, even marginally, and they say their country is a lot better off than it was three years ago.

Deciding to get cattle off their Hughenden country early this year and selling some to feedlots has helped them manage their current situation.

Mr McConachy said he had done enough complaining over the years - friends dubbed him Mr McGrumpy, he said - and all they could do was get on with it.

"We're not relying on one place to make a go of it - there's always someone worse off than yourself," he said.

The story Hanging in there first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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