AFTER February's massive rainfall and flooding events in north-western Queensland, there was huge enquiry for agistment in expectation of prolific grass growth and cattle were expected to pour in from all directions.
But somewhat surprisingly not that many cattle have come into the Winton district at this stage.
However what is happening is that property sales are bringing new people to the district and that may help arrest the slow drift away that has been occurring over the past 25 years.
Agent Tom Brodie explained.
On the open Downs country the feed has not done as well as might have been hoped for with the amount of rain received.
Mitchell grass is particularly disappointing. It is there but it has just not performed.
But that is not to say that all areas within the region are similarly affected.
To the west of Winton the Middleton district is magnificent and possibly the best it has looked in a very long time. Also country to the south of Winton and to the south and west of Longreach has fared well.
Further out around Boulia country that received storms before Christmas and then received follow-up falls is also looking good.
In contrast country to the north of Winton around Corfield looks nowhere near as good.
Timing and extent of rainfall events seems to be the key.
In the areas that have responded best, earlier rain of 10-15cm (4-6 inches) got things started and then follow-up of 12-15cm (5-6 inches) topped it off.
Where the response was not as good there was a similar total amount of rain but almost all of it in the one initial event and little or no follow-up.
With the mixed response to the rain not a lot of country was offered for agistment but instead quite a number of property owners recognised that this was perhaps the best opportunity in a long time to sell.
In consequence some of those looking for grass were prepared to buy and quite a number of places have changed hands and more still are in the pipeline.
Tom said the original interest was from the eastern side, Clermont, Springsure, Augathella, essentially the dry cattle country.
That has now backed off a bit and most interest of late has come from south around the border and even further south as far as Griffith in NSW.
Interest is for both cattle and sheep but it has also been very selective.
The demand has been for good quality country with good improvements and ready to go without having to spend money.
In particular there is no tolerance for prickly acacia because of the perceived risk of spreading the problem to their existing country by livestock movement.
Price range is $3-5 million with anything above that struggling to attract much attention.
Tom considered that country previously worth around $120/acre has probably pushed up to around $150. Country that was around $105-110 has pushed up to around $130.
But perhaps the most significant thing about this current round of property activity is that it is bringing people to occupy the country.
For a long time the trend has been for neighbours to buy out neighbours or for northern cattlemen to buy Downs country to complement their breeding operations.
The effect of this has been a gradual depopulation with caretakers and visiting mustering teams replacing resident families.
It may only be tentative but the newcomers represent some hope for the struggling small towns of the region.
Livestock movement meanwhile has dwindled to a trickle.
A few preg-tested empty cows are dribbling out but not in any number.
Bullocks are similarly scarce at the moment for either slaughter or live export with the latter attracting $3 last week at Townsville for clean-coated crossbred types.
However the emerging worry now as a consequence of the extreme weather earlier in the year is that calf losses may be greater than anticipated.
Abortions may be playing a part but it looks overall as if calving will be down 15-20pc.
In the meantime Tom feels that for anyone with feed and cattle they can hold, the latter part of the year looks promising.
He expects a shortage of fats come September/October and heightened demand locally for live-export feeders in November/December/ January as the Territory and Kimberley supply runs down after their largely failed wet season this year.
Kill soars to 2015 level
AS female cattle continue to dominate the national kill, weekly slaughterings soared last week to 156,175. Checking back through MLA reports, the last time a higher figure was reported was October 2015.
Across Qld/NSW where a gender split is available, the percentage of females climbed to 53 per cent from 51pc just the week before.
One major processor described this continuing influx of females as very worrying for the state of the national herd and the implications for supply of slaughter stock further down the track.
At the moment he estimated the Queensland pipeline ranged from six-seven weeks out in the north to around three weeks in southern works.
Saturday shifts have been reinstated at some southern and central Queensland sites but he thought another week or two might see them drop back.
With the improved supply situation, freight differentials have reappeared in regional Queensland grids ending a prolonged period when central and northern rates matched those in the south.
Some categories attracted further adjustment since last week bringing 4-tooth ox to 530c and heavy cow to 415-420c.
But the comfort of the present supply situation is not expected to last very long and the expectation is that things will look very different by the time Brisbane Ekka comes around.
Add in the likely expansion of live-export slaughter shipments from Townsville and Port Alma and it is easy to see why processors are anticipating a substantial change of fortune in the latter half of this year.