Heidi and Bruce Lyle in the dry Shannonbrook Creek at their cattle farm, 4km out of Casino.
Heidi and Bruce Lyle in the dry Shannonbrook Creek at their cattle farm, 4km out of Casino. Susanna Freymark

Farmers prepare for a dry future

IF THE Shannonbrook Creek at the Lyle's cattle farm is dry, it will be even drier at the feeder waterways that run through Andrew McSweeney's property at Mummulgum.

More than five creeks feed into the Shannonbrook, which flows into Deep Creek and is released into the Richmond River at Tatham.

On Friday, Bruce and Heidi Lyle were checking the few remaining puddles of sandy water on the creek bed, only 4km outside of Casino.

"It hasn't been like this in the nine years we've been here," Mr Lyle said. "We were told when we bought the property it would never run dry."

Water is everything on the farm and with 400 head of cattle, Mr Lyle is doing everything he can to be prepared for a dry farming future.

"We spray weeds on the banks and have planted silky oaks," he said.

Importantly, the creek is fenced so cattle can't access the water direct and destroy the stability of the banks of the creek.

"It means cleaner water and reduces erosion considerably," Mr Lyle said.

 

Andrew McSweeny's cattle farm at Mummulugum is dry.
Andrew McSweeny's cattle farm at Mummulugum is dry. Susanna Freymark

Instead he pumps water up to troughs in the paddock. If it doesn't rain soon, he will have to move the cattle to his farm and home of 30 years at Ellangowan where he has dams. He also tests the cows to see which are pregnant.

"The non-preg cows are the first to go," he said. "It's part of our management strategy."

Farmers need to have a plan in place to deal with the dry weather conditions, he said.

Mr Lyle is a field officer for Norco Rural in Casino and spends his days advising farmers in the field.

Mr McSweeney is one cattle farmer who sought Mr Lyle's advice to keep his herd of 250 black angus cattle healthy in the dry conditions. On his 600ha Mummulgum property, he has tubs of molasses in each paddock and the cows' feed is also supplemented with rice stubble.

The stubble helps with digestion but it is the nutrition-rich molasses that keeps them healthy.

He prioritises the heifers for breeding and will sell steers at the cattle sales.

When it rains out west, the farmers will be looking for breeders, he said.

Currently Mr McSweeney pays $100 for a large round bale of hay. Normally it would cost $50, he said.

"You need rain to crop and we haven't cropped for two years," he said.

Theresa Creek runs through his property, and it is almost dry. Mr McSweeney reckons there is about two weeks of water left and then he will have to rely on his six dams, some of which sit empty and barren.

"The last time the creeks ran out of water was in 1984," he said.