Debbie an 'expensive kick in the guts' for cattle farmers

18th April 2017 10:06 AM
CLOSE CALL: The lucky cow that was able to escape flood waters thanks to Mr Hatfield spotting him before it was too late. CLOSE CALL: The lucky cow that was able to escape flood waters thanks to Mr Hatfield spotting him before it was too late. Todd Hatfield

THE livelihood of hundreds of graziers in the Mackay and Whitsunday regions was stripped from them in the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie, when floods hit and left little to their farms.

The cyclone and water left behind a major trail of destruction at many properties and left thousands of cattle either roaming stray or washed down creeks by the force of the water.

Koumala grazier Owen Marteene was one of many cattle farmers who lost almost all of his stock to the floods, and said he received no warning that his area was at risk of being inundated.

"We lost 52 head of breeders including bulls, so 34 cows, bulls and 18 weaners of our total breeding stock,” he said.

"So far we managed to get 30 something back, but roughly 20 are still missing and we think several may have drowned.

"The whole 52 went down the creek, got flushed down by the water, we couldn't do anything to stop it or help, it was devastating, somehow we managed to get these ones back that were able to pull themselves out.”

DAMAGE DONE: The destruction at Mr Marteene's cattle property in Koumala following Cyclone Debbie and the recent floods.
DAMAGE DONE: The destruction at Mr Marteene's cattle property in Koumala following Cyclone Debbie and the recent floods. Owen Marteene

Mr Marteene said he had already removed three dead carcasses from the creek near the back of his home, and knew there would be more to find further up Rocky Dam Creek.

"There's bad smells so there's a high chance there's more that haven't made it further up,” he said.

"It's totally devastating, that's our whole herd, we've been breeding them up for over 11 years.

"To get bulls to good quality like that it takes forever and when it's just all gone and taken from you in half an hour, it just really hit us hard.”

Mr Marteene has lived at the same Koumala property with his wife for 11 years and said they had never seen such water come through or threaten their land before.

He questioned why they were given no warning that water would soon inundate their property, and in turn give them time to move their cattle to a safer place.

DAMAGE DONE: The destruction at Mr Marteene's cattle property in Koumala following Cyclone Debbie and the recent floods.
DAMAGE DONE: The destruction at Mr Marteene's cattle property in Koumala following Cyclone Debbie and the recent floods. Owen Marteene

"We had at least three metres of water come through, water that had never been here in history, our neighbour is 60 something and been here all his life and he said there has never been water in that area,” Mr Marteene said.

"It literally came up in half an hour, if we knew we would have been able to move the cattle but since we got no notice we were just relying on history of the land.

"There was just no warning or communication to us, if messages were sent to phones then that's ridiculous because every area was out of service following the cyclone so that's not an appropriate measure, obviously no-one would receive that warning.

"Something else should have been done and earlier, It's just so disappointing the whole thing, aside from losing cattle you know it puts people's lives at risk.”

Koumala was just one of dozens of areas that was struck by the aftermath of Cyclone Debbie, leaving residents to fend for themselves once water began to rise.

Blue Mountain resident Todd Hatfield said he too witnessed cattle being washed away by the strength of the floods and was shocked by the height it reached on his property.

"We fared pretty roughly out here, we lost the majority of our fences, a horse training arena that had just been finished,” he said.

"It's pretty wild as nobody had ever seen the water up that high before or running that quick.

"The damage bill is yet to be calculated but it's an expensive kick in the guts for all the farmers around our area, horses, cattle and cane crops have been lost everywhere.”

On the night that the floods hit, Mr Hatfield said he was able to save just one lucky cow that was close to drowning in the rising water.

"I was walking down our front lawn and I saw a head bobbing down the body of the water,” he said.

"I raced down with the dogs, opened the gates onto the road and into our yard and then swam out around her (the cow), she had by this stage luckily found a footing next to the fence on the road.

"She walked against the current until she was able to walk out the gate, she was pretty exhausted, she had been washed down through a number of properties before she got there.”

The cow was one of few lucky livestock that were able to escape the wrath of Cyclone Debbie, however there are reports of hundreds between both cattle and horses still missing.