June 14, 2018: The load turned up three days earlier than expected, local men Mal Carter and Mick Conlon giving up their own farm work time, fuel and muscle with less than 12 hours’ notice, to help unload and reload.
The Ralphs now hope someone else will come forward to secure the next load.
June 11, 2018: “Rain will come, but in the meantime we all need to look after each other.”
The words belong to Upper Manilla resident Leanne Ralph, but she’s seen them put into action as the drought staggers on in the region.
A dozen landholders from the area – “desperate for feed” – have rallied together to secure a truckload of hay delivered from Queensland this weekend.
With fodder prices skyrocketing and supplies dwindling, that’s a very costly and increasingly difficult exercise.
And as most of these farmers are “small fish”, it’s co-operation, generosity and trust that will help them get their livestock through another day.
Mrs Ralph and husband Ash run horse training business Roar Equine, are currently boarding 23 horses and “like everyone else” can’t find any local sources of hay.
“I saw someone advertise in Queensland that they had grassy lucerne hay available, got in touch and asked if I could get 100 bales,” Mrs Ralph said.
“She quite rightly said, ‘I can’t send just 100 bales, you’d have to get a whole truckload’.”
So Mrs Ralph turned to social media and word of mouth to rustle up a few others in the same predicament.
The demand was there for a truckload of almost 700 bales, and she was also able to negotiate a good price.
“It ended up being $14.30 a bale inclusive of transport and GST – we were very, very lucky.”
The Ralphs had to pay up front – and, at almost $10,000, that was a bit of a gamble.
“To secure the load, we had to pay for the entire lot ourselves, which was risky, but we had to secure it or it could have gone to someone else,” Mrs Ralph said.
“So we had to say to people, ‘Can you please pop the money in our account?’ … everyone has done it.”
‘Everyone is desperate’
Mrs Ralph said she now had enough names to justify another truckload of hay.
“We’ve had people from the Hunter Valley saying, ‘Can we get a truckload delivered to Scone?’; people down closer to Sydney calling up and saying, ‘We don’t know where to get hay from’ …
“We all understand everyone’s in the same boat, but it made us realise how much more desperate everyone is.”
The Ralphs also had 20 head of Hereford heifers and Angus-cross calves on their 100 acres.
“We’ve been so lucky: our neighbour has allowed us to graze our cattle there for several weeks, because there’s no way we could have kept up with them and horses, we would have had to sell them,” Mrs Ralph said.
They found themselves in need of feed despite having an irrigation licence that allowed them to grow and put away some oaten hay last year.
“Unfortunately a storm came through and destroyed our shed, and we lost 600 bales of hay …
“We’re feeding out every day, so our horses get hard fed and supplement fed every single day, plus they have hay round bales in the paddocks as well as slow feeder hay nets.
“We’ve got to make sure they’re 100 per cent looked after and go home happy, healthy and fat with a shine on.”
The Ralphs have sown some oats for hay later this year, “but the rest of the place, it’s just dirt”.
“At the moment it’s hard: you're paying a lot extra to keep the horses, but you don’t want to pass that onto owners, because we’re a small business and we have to keep our customers happy.”
‘Pay it forward’
When that coveted truckload of hay arrives – the drop-off location is still being worked out – it’s more community spirit that will get it off.
“We’ve been really lucky to get a farmer up the road offer his time and machinery to come and unload the truck for us at no cost,” Mrs Ralph said.
“It very, very generous – he doesn’t want anything, he just wants to help out.”
And she said that was one positive to have come out of the tough times.
“If everybody could just help someone out and pay it forward ... I have full hope that we’re one day closer to rain,” she said.
“It’ll come. We just all need to look after each other in the meantime.”