Written by Julie Bird, founder of Sleepy Merino, and a wool grower from Inverell NSW. Julie's mission is to improve the sleep and well-being of people all over the world with Australian Merino wool.
Did you realise Australia just experienced the driest September on record? Our area in Northern NSW is getting very dry, very quickly with the current El Nino weather pattern. Luckily some areas in Southern NSW and Victoria have fared much better with good rain. Our farm in Northern NSW is currently classed as Drought Affected (Intensifying).
What is happening out here
Farmers are used to the cycle of drought and flood, with a few mouse plagues and fires thrown in….So why is this one different?
I jokingly call our shop the Sleepy Merino counselling service…lots of local farmers come in for a chat, and so many are still scarred, and terrified of going back into a dry time. The last drought, known as the ‘2019 drought’, was the worst in living memory. Yes, we had a few years of great seasons. Most graziers had to buy back livestock at very high prices, as well as repay huge feed bills and debt from the drought. Like many other industries, our input costs have increased to unsustainable levels over the last few years, including very high costs for shearing due to a shortage of shearers. While the award rate is around $3.80 per sheep, rates charged recently are between $4-12. And now, just as we have rebuilt our herds and flocks, and are ready to sell our first good number of lambs or calves, the market has absolutely plummeted. In fact, we are selling below cost, and in some cases our stock is unsaleable. The wool market is also not great for Merino, and unsaleable for crossbred wool.
How our regen practices and easy-care sheep are helping us
We are in a better position than most, thanks to our landscape, regenerative farming practices, and careful selection and breeding of our livestock. We have a mix of arable basalt country, and rougher grazing country with native grasses, and a tough introduced grass, Coolatai. There is plenty of timber and scrub, providing browse for the right type of livestock. The better basalt country dries out very quickly, with the ‘back country’ providing a hay stack for dry times. Botanical compounds in many native shrubs, and the reduction of ground grazing have greatly reduced worm burdens in our livestock. The scrub also provides feed when the grasses have little nutritional value in dry times. We breed a type of modern Merino sheep which has the ability to do well in tough conditions, and have stronger browsing tendencies than traditional Merinos we have had in the past. We have sadly already sold all the cows, as they require much more feed and water during tough times.
Water for stock, and domestic use is becoming a huge issue for many landholders in our area. While some of our dams are drying up, we a fortunate to have deep water holes in our creeks, as well as many small springs in our hilly grazing country.
We were very lucky to secure 10 tonne of feed corn from one of our local grain growers to give our ewes much needed energy leading up to lambing. We also provide minerals in loose lick and blocks. Despite the ewes being happy, well-fed and watered, as with other flocks in the dry areas, many are abandoning their lambs, leaving very low numbers. This is a natural survival trait- it is like they know conditions are getting worse…
What can you do to help our drought affected farmers and rural communities?
Eat more lamb! The price is coming down, slowly...
If this continues, drought charities will need your help. Charities are doing it tough as it is, due to the high cost of living pressures reducing donations, and the increase in need.
Please holiday or travel through drought affected regions. The whole regional economy is affected by drought, and regional hotels, cafes and retailers really appreciate your support in tough times.
And of course, support Australian wool products! Seek out Australian Made if possible. In addition to our Sleepy Merino pyjamas, we also stock Lindner Quality Socks from Crookwell NSW, and will soon be helping to reduce the crossbred wool glut with Australian Made doonas from our wool broker, Fox and Lillie. Thanks so much for your support. It all helps, and you get a quality, thermoregulating, Aussie Made wool product in your life!