A SUMMER grain sorghum crop on 325 hectares at Barana, Coolah, has been a saviour for Peter and Charmaine Cook and family this year.
Harvested towards the end of April and early May, the crop yielded 4.5 tonnes a hectare, a terrific yield for the season, says Mr Cook.
With 300 tonnes stored away as feed insurance, the Cooks turned their cattle onto the stubble, and this has kept their herd numbers in good health, along with cotton seed supplement.
Keeping 300t from every harvest, whether wheat or sorghum, has been a practice the Cook family have followed for many decades as drought-proof insurance.
So far, they haven't needed to open the silo, but as the dry continues, that time is getting closer.
The family runs a Simmental stud side-by-side with a purebred Shorthorn herd and does join some females to Angus bulls in a small crossbreeding program for steer production.
"We normally run from 280 to 320 breeders that are mostly stud cattle, but we are now back to half that number," Mr Cook said.
"Well, you've got to bite the bullet and let the borderline cattle go in these drought times.
"We've been selling off all our older cows and are trying to keep our top breeders."
We've been selling off all our older cows and are trying to keep our top breeders.
Barana is located on the southwestern edge of the Liverpool Plains, 14 kilometres north of Coolah and boasts healthy, self-mulching black soil on all but 120ha of the 940ha property, the rest of which was red basalt.
Mr Cook said the sorghum crop was sown on long-fallow paddocks in mid-November following some rain.
"It had good germination from some rain before and after sowing into a good moisture profile," he said.
"The crop has saved us up to now, but the cattle have eaten it down to just the crowns.
"We have been able to sow a late winter window with spitfire wheat and that is just at its third leaf and will be kept for grain, weather permitting."
The Cooks have been soil testing for more than 10 years and with long fallows from 12 to 18 months, their black soils have built up to a stage where crops are not needing as much fertiliser at sowing, or in crop.
Pasture has played an important role in the rotational mix, but that's very limited and the Cooks are staring down another hot summer.
"While that sorghum crop saved us at the time, it has now run out and our trouble is that we are moving towards summer and any dry grass left will frizzle up and blow away," Mr Cook said.
"Currently we are relying on cotton seed as a supplement. Cattle do well on it from its energy and protein."
Mr Cook says he's hoping for sufficient spring and summer rain to see them through the summer and possibly repeat the sorghum strategy like the last crop.
In the meantime, the Cooks are relying on the better seasons in southern parts of NSW, Victoria and South Australia to provide hay and fodder for the next six to eight months until they have crops to graze again.