Ensay's Mountain Calf Sale is under threat as farmers ringed by fires, running out of water, and battling drought, decide to sell more than 1000 calves at the Bairnsdale store cattle sale next week.
The calves would normally be sold at the Ensay Mountain Calf Sale in March but farmers like Newcomen Hereford stud principal Barry Newcomen simply can't hold on that long.
"The drought has driven us that way," Mr Newcomen said.
"We're running out of water and we're certainly running out of feed.
"That is the case for quite a few vendors so there may well not be an Ensay calf sale, which is a shame."
Mr Newcomen said he thought the Bairnsdale sale presented an opportunity to buy slightly younger calves at what were likely to be cheaper prices.
"They're buying the same genetics for probably less money," he said.
"Who knows? I hope not but they probably will be less money than what we might have got in March because they're a little bit lighter but they're the same calves.
"All they've got to do is feed them six weeks longer than they normally would."
Newcomen Hereford stud had not skimped on fodder over the years of drought.
"We've been feeding them and they're in quite good order," Mr Newcomen said.
"I don't think they're as good as the calves we normally have but there are a lot of good calves still in the district.
"Ours will still yard up alright but they're just a bit behind what I would have hoped."
Mountain Calf Sale questions
Elders agent Morgan Davies said it was too early to talk about whether the Ensay Mountain Calf Sale would go ahead.
"The cornerstone of the Ensay calf sale are selling their calves early," Mr Davies said.
"There's going to be other cattle coming with another agent or two, like Geehmans and Joe Jordan.
"They're all vendors from the Ensay area so it's not necessarily just a Newcomen show, there's going to be a lot of others at Bairnsdale.
"We don't know what effect that will have on the sale.
"What we're going through is pretty unprecedented at the moment but there's been an Ensay calf sale running for a long, long time.
"The fact is there are cattle coming early and we have to sell those and get through the next few months.
"All of these calves have been weaned, EU, everything's been done to make these calves sell so famously in the mountains.
"It's been a pretty tough few years and these farmers keep producing cattle of the quality that they have always done.
"They've always invested in genetics, always been so progressive, trying to grow the cattle that hit specific markets.
"It's happened earlier just purely because of, a, continued dry seasons, b, the lack of water, c, fires."
Newcomen Hereford stud breeding stock, however, is not coming up for sale as Mr Newcomen keeps a firm eye on recovery.
"We've had three very bad winters and it cost us a fortune in feed but we still elected to do that rather than sell the breeders," he said.
"We've got 90 heifer calves and we're going to keep them away on agistment in the western district because the experts say females are going to be worth a lot of money when it finally rains.
"I hope they're right."
Tambo dries up
Feed's not the only problem.
The other big one is water.
"Dams and creeks have dried up," Mr Newcomen said.
"One fella sold his before Christmas because the creek has dried up at the block he normally has his calves on.
"The Tambo River is a pretty big river but it is dry.
"There are big pools here and there.
"We're lucky enough to have one we pump out of and, each time we pump out of that, you can see it going down.
"I just turned the pump off this morning and it's gone down since I started it yesterday.
"We're just going to have to rely on rain to make the river run again."
The Tambo River is one of the five main rivers that feed the Gippsland Lakes and it's rare to see it run dry.
Even so, the most recent time Mr Newcomen saw it run dry was just last year before big rains brought it back to life.
During 2019, the Tambo's levels were the lowest since records began in 1965 downstream of Ramrod Creek.
Others have been luckier, with the Little River's spring continuing to flow.
There is little relief for farmers who are running out of stock water as authorities scramble for solutions to preserve what little potable water is available in the bushfire zones.
"If you need water in an emergency for livestock or for fire suppression, there are several options across the region," incident controller Hugh Christie said.
"However, these will depend on your ability to access the water, given the isolation still experienced in many areas with continuing fires and road closures.
"Please use alternative suitable supplies for livestock and fire suppression wherever feasible and safe to do so, to reduce the demand on the drinking water supplies on town mains."
Farmers could take water from any river or creek.
"Please be aware that the quality of the water may not necessarily be suitable for stock to drink, especially once rain washes ash and fire debris into the system," he said.
The Swifts Creek Recreation Reserve now has a connection point for people to fill up a water cube or slip-on unit for transport of water for emergency livestock relief.
Mr Christie urged people to limit use of the bore to 1000 litres each, because demand was strong but the capacity of the bore was currently unknown.