DROUGHT-stricken cattle farmers yesterday reacted with a virtual fire sale of stock at the Tamworth livestock markets.
The Monday sale saw a dramatic boost to the numbers of cattle put up in the wake of the deepening drought conditions.
A severe shortage of feed and water has forced graziers into selling off what they can’t feed.
Tamworth Regional Livestock Exchange saw more than 3100 cattle yarded yesterday, up 50 per cent on last week’s sale.
The sharp rise comes as persistently dry conditions have left fodder supplies desperately low and dams running dry.
Steve Littlejohns, of Garoo, was one who reluctantly offloaded some of his steers and heifers in Tamworth yesterday.
He said he was left with little choice but to sell earlier than anticipated given the serious lack of feed and water available to him.
“We just can’t afford to keep them if it doesn’t rain,” he said.
“Early on we thought we were going to have a fairly good spring and it was going to be OK, but it just hasn’t rained.
“It’s as bad as I’ve seen it in the last 10 years. We haven’t had run-off rain for nearly two years and the dams are drying up.”
The NSW Farmers Association estimates that 14 per cent of the state is in drought, with another 25 per cent on the way to being drought declared.
Reedy Creek Herefords owner Rob Haling, of Loomberah, said he believes it to be the worst drought he has experienced since 1965.
He said that despite Tamworth being one of the state’s biggest lucerne-growing areas, one outlet was last week restricting sales to just five bales per customer.
“They’re desperately short – I’ve never seen it like this before,” he said.
“At least we’ll have something to harvest (around Tamworth), but (some wheat and barley) crops out at Rowena didn’t come up.”
Tamworth Selling Agents Association president Ian Morgan said the increased numbers at yesterday’s sales reflected farmers’ desperation.
“A lot of cows wouldn’t normally be sold (at this time of the season), but they’re coming in because of the dry season,” he said.
“I can imagine it’s a very difficult decision to make because when it does rain, the fundamentals of the cattle market are very sound.
“Surprisingly, the market’s holding up well. I think most vendors would be quite pleased with the outcome today. A lot of the cattle are still in good to reasonable condition, but if it doesn’t rain then we can expect more lighter condition cattle.”
Weather forecasters predict an 80 per cent chance of 10mm to 20mm of rain falling in Tamworth on Friday, and between 5mm and 10mm falling on Saturday.