Sullivans dig deep for drought

Sullivans dig deep for drought


Beef Cattle
David Sullivan, Studley, Roma, has been planning for dry times since receiving out-of-season storms last winter.

David Sullivan, Studley, Roma, has been planning for dry times since receiving out-of-season storms last winter.

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WHEN storms delivered some out-of-season rain on David Sullivan's Roma district property in the winter of 2012, his father warned of tough times ahead.

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WHEN storms delivered some out-of-season rain on David Sullivan's Roma district property in the winter of 2012, his father warned of tough times ahead.

"Dad said back then that out-of-season storms meant that a drought was coming," Mr Sullivan said.

"I took what he said seriously and started to make some decisions that might get us through a drought if one came."

David and his wife Jenny run a mixed farming and grazing operation on the 1600ha Studley and 800ha Binya, 45km southwest of Roma.

The operation includes 1500ha of cultivation and 150 Santa Hereford cross breeders.

The Sullivans join their cows to Angus bulls and aim to finish the steers and cull heifers on oats by 24 months of age and usually sell directly through the Roma prime sale.

But as predicted by David's father, dry times have eventuated on Studley and Binya. The properties are officially drought declared, having received 180mm in the past 12 months and just 275mm in the past 16 months.

Normal cattle and cropping programs have been abandoned as the Sullivans have worked to ride out the drought in the most economical way possible.

"What we did was start selling all our dry cattle as early as possible," Mr Sullivan said.

"Last year's steers would normally be coming off oats now but we started feeding them grain on the first of January and by the end of May they were all gone."

With their own wheat seed on hand, the Sullivans reduced this year's wheat planting to just 600ha and minimised inputs such as fertiliser.

Mr Sullivan said he only had limited planting moisture but felt it was still worthwhile planting the wheat as cattle feed.

"It doesn't cost a lot to just put the seed in the ground," he said.

"We didn't use any fertiliser and minimised our sprays. I never expected to harvest the crop. If we got rain and it came off, well and good. If it didn't rain we'd use the wheat to get the cows through.

"We've had the cows and last year's weaners on the wheat since early September and we've probably got another three or four weeks to go before it's finished."

The wheat has kept the cows cycling and allowed the Sullivans to put the bulls out as planned on October 1.

The calves now at foot will be branded at Christmas and weaned around the time the first frost arrives next winter.

"The fact that the cows are still in good condition and we can look ahead to next year's calves is a big positive for me," Mr Sullivan said.

"This is not a short-term feeding strategy - it's about next year's cattle income.

"We also have a fair bit of dry grass left and are keeping the lick up to all the cattle.

"We've got enough feed to get us through to the New Year and then we may start using some grain we have kept on-farm as a last resort."

The Sullivans also moved to shore up their stock water by putting down a bore in May this year.

Water security was a major issue on Studley when the Sullivans purchased the property in 1977, prompting the family to invest heavily in new dams.

But Mr Sullivan said he always felt sinking a bore was the only way to truly provide water security to the entire property.

The Sullivans spent $100,000 drilling and equipping the new bore and are still in the process of piping water to new troughs across the property.

"We have put a lot of dams in since we have been here and while the bigger dams still have water in them the smaller ones are going dry," he said.

"As each one goes dry I appreciate our decision to put the bore down more and more.

"We've had three good years here. I could have spent $100,000 on a new Toyota but a new bore makes a lot more sense.

"It's an investment that will last a lifetime and beyond."

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