There were plenty of emotional scenes when 78 donated large square hay bales strapped on the back of a B double semi-trailer rumbled up the driveway of Ashley and Wendy Gamble’s dairy farm near Oakey on Friday.
Ashley and Wendy milk 850 cows with Ashley’s parents, Ian and Lyndell, supplying milk to Norco, and they are severely drought stricken.
The hay was grown and donated by Western Australian grain farmer and John Deere machinery dealer, John Nicoletti of Westonia, a small town located in the eastern wheatbelt region near Merredin.
Mr Nicoletti had earlier seen some television coverage of the Gamble family’s dreadful plight and knew he needed to do something to help.
“We have all been in this situation and being a dairy farmer it is especially difficult as you can’t send your cows away on agistment – they just have to stay put to be near the farm infrastructure to be milked,” he said.
“I just felt is was un-Australian not to help, so I donated my hay and funded the transport,” Mr Nicoletti said.
The hay left Western Australia on Monday with warm hearted Norm Mundy at the wheel to undertake the 4300 kilometre journey across Australia.
Ashley and his wife Wendy could not be more grateful.
“It is a relief that people do try to help,” Ashley said.
“We have had great difficulty in sourcing and paying for hay at the ridiculous price it is, and it is putting our family into more of a financial hole than ever before.
“It has been impossible to source hay for the past six to eight weeks, so people like John are amazing.
“Without people like him we would not be able to survive this drought.
“It is unreal to think it has come all the way and I really didn’t think it would arrive.”
The hay supply will last the Gambles for the next five days.
“So that is five days I don’t have to worry where the feed will come from,” Ashley said.
“It really is not a case of how long it lasts, but the appreciation of receiving.”
The Gambles supply five million litres of milk to Norco annually.
“Throughout the years, dairying has been hard enough for all farmers with fluctuating milk prices and costs but now its becoming unbearable,” he said.
“It has mainly been due to the drought that we have been faced with the past couple of years and the weather forecasts still look grim into the future.
“Our cows are a part of our family and we will be absolutely devastated with what will happen to them when our feed and water runs dry.”
Ashley has his dry cows and heifers feeding on the side of the road.
“The feed is just about gone and they are living on all but nothing, and some neighbours are fighting over the ownership of the feed,” he said.
And for Norm, who made the trip, said it is the longest haul he has ever driven.
“I jumped on the back of the convoy of the other 22 Western Australian trucks going to Condobolin, NSW, but kept coming through to Queensland,” he said.
“That massive cross-country aid effort was organised by the Rapid Relief Team (RRT) charity, and included 1000 tonnes of hay worth $500,000, which is enough to feed 1000 cows or 20,000 sheep for a fortnight for the farmers in central western NSW.
“It was a good trip and I couldn’t believe the support from the people in the local towns buying us coffees and drinks and looking after us,” Norm said.
Norm said he got to come on the trip as his boss was keen to help and he was willing to go.
“I said, you load it and I’ll take it, as I knew it was for a good cause, and would do it again tomorrow if the opportunity arose.”
Ashley had one parting shot regarding the supermarket milk monopoly.
“It is the major supermarkets who can help fix this situation and that is by putting up the price of milk and stop the discount war giving us a better return for our milk – they too, could add a 20c drought levy as well,” Ashley said.