(Image – ‘Cambo’, Mungindi NSW)
The big dry. There’s a lot of things you can regulate, influence and change as a woolgrower. But the rain ain’t one of them.
Working across Southern and Outback Queensland for most of my working year in the woolsheds, I experience the highs and lows of the seasons alongside the woolgrowers who I class for. Some days work is called off because not even my 4wd can navigate their black soil driveways to start work. But when the big dry rears its ugly head, there is nothing but sunshine. That moisture sucking, dry heat sunshine.
The ground under the sheep’s hooves is cracked and patiently waiting to be broken with a good shower of rain. Green grass is a distant and fading memory. Trees pruned of all of their foliage from their lowest hanging branches.
It almost looks like the sheep have taken up a new diet of rocks and dust. They still have their heads down and tails up, grazing on whatever they’re sniffing out on the dry ground. Daily feeding has started up again by the woolgrowers, with all other jobs being put on the waiting list on the farm.
The strain it takes on the woolgrowers is not given a second thought. There’s plenty of money going out to keep bellies full with a balanced and nutritious diet, not much coming in though. The crack of dawn signals the start of the work day, beating that blistering afternoon heat. Dams are drying up, tanks are emptying. There’s no time to waste on worry, sheep need to be fed.
Most nights are spent checking the long range forecast, hoping that keeping everything crossed might mean that La Nina will be showing her face around here again sometime soon. There’s a few more ants about. A couple of black cockatoos getting about the back paddock. Turtles and echidnas seem to be on the move….Everything is read into. The carpet next to the bed is worn out from woolgrowers on their knees each night.
There’s a lot of things a woolgrower can control, but when they look up and there’s not a bloody cloud in the sky, that feeling of not having any control is overwhelming. A claustrophobic feeling that perhaps the woolgrowers spirit and back will be broken before this big dry will be.
But, that doesn’t matter, tomorrow is a new day. All that matters is their flock, their health, their future. And that rain forecast of 90% chance of 20-40mm.