CAROLYN Burnes sounded bright and cheerful when she answered my phone call last Thursday morning.
It’s a notable change from the pleasant but drought-weary young mother I’d met when I’d visited the Burnes’ at their Adavale property a few weeks before.
“We’ve had 60mm,” Carolyn says excitedly.
“I can’t believe how much better I feel. While it is not drought breaking, everything just looks and feels brighter overnight. Of course, there are some in this area who have barely had any rain so we hope there is more coming for them.”
Its wonderful news given the unease I’d seen when I’d last visited the Burnes a few weeks before.
At that time, Carolyn and Andrew had just invested heavily to pipe water 20km to their 12,000ha property, Bulls Gully, from the town of Adavale.
With all surface water long gone, the piping project was designed to deliver a reliable supply of clean water right across the property.
But weeks after it was installed, the Burnes’ were still struggling with air locks and were concerned that the water may not have enough pressure to reach Bulls Gully.
Again, Carolyn had good news to report last week.
“We finally got the air out of the system and it’s been a tremendous saviour for us,” Carolyn said.
“The water that we have piped from Adavale means we now have clean water right across the 30,000 acres and we don’t have to worry about cattle in bogs or anything like that.
“We have 600 head of cattle locked up in a 3000 acre paddock of low Mulga and they have three troughs in there and I think the clean water makes a huge difference.
“With a bit of dry lick and good water they are doing very well.”
Ease of management is a key focus for Andrew and Carolyn who also operate two off-farm businesses.
Andrew works mostly locally in their earthmoving business while Carolyn runs the Quilpie Spellings yards.
While no cattle trains are currently reaching Quilpie (a source of frustration for Carolyn) the yards are an important spelling facility for cattle heading east out of the Channel Country and the desert.
With Andrew often busy working away, Carolyn is sometimes left to juggle their two young children, Lace and Clay, with work at the spelling yards and their own stud and commercial beef operation on Bulls Gully.
The Burnes’ aim to run 200 stud Charbray cows and progeny along with another 450 commercial breeders, that had been on long-term agistment in NSW before drought in that region forced their return home last year.
“We usually try to keep this place fairly understocked so it was a bit stressful having to bring them all home,” Carolyn said.
“We are now hoping that with this rain around we will be able to find some good, long term agistment once again, and not only look after our cows the way we'd like to be able, but our country as well. Drought can do terrible things to your self-esteem when it makes you feel like you are failing doing both, on top of the financial stress.”
Carolyn said running stud cattle was one way to maximise income on a smaller block.
Their herd is based on quality genetics including bloodlines from Huntington and Palgrove.
The Burnes’ aim to sell about 30 bulls out of the paddock each year and say the feedback they have received from clients in areas such as Eromanga, Windorah and Charleville had been encouraging.
“A lot of people might look at our bulls and say they don’t look as fat and shiny as others they buy out of sales but we know there are plenty of good cattlemen out there that can see the quality of a beast, and who know the practical benefits of having bulls conditioned to work and withstand harsh climates,” Carolyn said.
"The milk they are raised on is produced in mulga paddocks, but we are also fortunate to have some very sweet country on the Bulloo River on which we can grow out our bulls naturally.
“We could see there was a market out there for bulls that have been bred in this country and we have had terrific feedback, particularly during this drought, about the fact that people haven’t had to feed our bulls while others are dying in the paddock.”