Cattle hopes go dry as wool bounces back

AUSTRALIA - When the September rain was below average, and October was even drier, Victorian cattleman and dairy farmerHarold Cocking knew what he had to do.
calendar icon 12 January 2007
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"When October rains fail, that is an indication that the year is not going to be good," he said. "That is when we started selling off."

He sold a quarter of his Angus, or beef, herd, and 15 per cent of the dairy herd he runs at his farm at Mickleham, near Melbourne.

Since then several dams on his property have dried up, "and we have some more that will go dry in the next month. That makes things particularly difficult. You can buy in feed but you can't buy in water."

Feed prices have hit record highs: grain that last year cost $170 a tonne, has been up to $350 a tonne. "We have bought the most feed we have ever bought." Mr Cocking admitted it was difficult to sell so much stock. "But you have to live in the world of reality in farming. You can only be profitable with livestock if you can feed them properly."

In November, 760,000 head of cattle were sold in Australia, the highest number since records began in 1979. In Victoria, the worst-affected state, 20 per cent more cattle were slaughtered in November last year, compared with same month in 2005, while the number of calves slaughtered jumped by 36 per cent.

But drought has brought a blessing, as the reduction in the wool clip has helped boost the price in what the Australian Wool Industries Secretariat described as a spectacular start to the second half of the season.

Ben Mumford farms wheat and merino sheep at Red Hill, two hours north of Adelaide. A third-generation farmer, Mr Mumford and his wife, Bronwyn, never lost faith in the wool industry. Throughout the long downturn, they maintained their breeding flock of ewes. "We have always had merino sheep as part of our farming enterprise. It works so well."

Source: The Australian

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