Luck and a positive attitude has played as much a role in Ann and Lachlan ‘Buckles’ Peacey pulling through one of the harshest droughts western Queensland has endured as any management techniques they’ve been able to implement.
Despite only having one fall of rain this year, 100mm back in March, the couple who own Laidlaw, 92km south of Longreach, insist they are are among the more fortunate producers in the region, thanks to a fall of 75mm the previous October that not many neighbours recorded.
On the strength of that they were able to join their nucleus ewe flock, some of them seven and eight years old, in December, and mark a remarkable 82 per cent of lambs.
In October they were busy shearing 3000 sheep, about half of what they’d normally run, that were cutting an 80-90mm staple of 19.5 micron wool.
“You’ve got to have a few wins,” was Buckles’ dry summary of the outcome.
And while they have been few and far between in the 25 years since the wool floor price collapse, the Peaceys have stuck with Merino sheep breeding, largely because of their ability to survive in dry times.
“We've got a hatful of cattle,” Buckles said. “We shifted them seven times in eight years at one stage, on agistment, and we got a bit sick of that.
“Next time I think they'll just go, what we've got left.”
True sheep producers get in a seasonal rhythm, whether it be a drought or good times, and that’s the feeling you get as Buckles and Ann talk about their affinity for their sheep and how they’ve ‘got them through’.
Adjustments had to be made – no ewes were joined in either 2014 or 2015, hence the age of some of the core breeders now – and the decision was made in 2015 to feed sheep for a year, after selling and selling again.
“We just about drove ourselves mad feeding them on and off,” Ann said.
“That was our worst. We came through with 1800 young ewes that were left.
“That was an awful time, selling all your good sheep off, but everyone had to do it.”
Dam good idea
Ironically, a lack of water, underground water specifically, is one of the things that Buckles points to as having helped them cope with the extended drought.
“Because we're all surface water, we probably destock early,” he said.
“We'd probably hang on a bit more (if we had bore water).
“We haven't got much choice but that's something we try to do.”
Artesian water is a prohibitive 2200 feet below, equal to a bill of half a million dollars to extract and pipe.
Experience from an earlier drought “many moons ago”, of carting water from Longreach, 92km away, when their dams went dry, a cost equivalent to agistment rates, showed them the value of their dams.
It was a salient lesson, one which saw them sink available cash into desilting and enlarging the dams, which has stood them in good stead this time around.
“That was the good thing, otherwise we'd be shot in the foot again now,” said Ann.
Chasing a little white ball has been another of Buckles’ ways of surviving the endless routine that drought brings.
“Your mental health is pretty important,” he said. “I’ve taken up golf in the last few years – you can go out and swear at a ball, and it gets you away from the place.”
The Peaceys are counting their blessings in lots of other ways too: while they might joke that three weddings and four grandchildren in the last two years has seen money “fly out the window”, those new beginnings have given them lots of pleasure.
Wild dogs haven’t caused as much havoc at Laidlaw as in other parts of the central west – only seven dogs were trapped in the last four years – and wool bale averages at shearing time were between $2200 and $2500.
“Ann's father, Peter Graham, told me that his wool clip didn’t pay for his shearing in 1969-70 – at least we can’t say that,” Buckles said.