Planning for drought
Planning for drought enables sheep producers to bounce back quicker once the rain comes. Good planning can help reduce the financial impact of drought by reducing waste, and can protect the condition and long-term carrying capacity of grazing land.
Although it is difficult to predict the length of a dry period, you can use historical rainfall and climate data to develop scenarios. The Rainman Streamflow software lets you work out local rainfall patterns from 100 years of monthly and daily records. Monthly climate statements, which interpret seasonal climate outlook information for Queensland, are also available from the Queensland Government.
Create a drought management plan
You need to know as much as you can about your overall position before a drought so that you can create a plan to get through it with minimal losses. There are 3 main areas to assess:
1. Your available water and feed
Start by working out how long you expect your water and feed to last with your stock, and how long the drought could last. It's not feasible to cart water for stock long term, so you must be realistic with the amount of water you will have access to throughout the drought, and be careful how you use it. If there is a body of dry, low-quality feed, lambing ewes will require additional energy for survival, or energy and protein for ewe and lamb survival; dry sheep will require less protein and energy than breeding sheep. If little or no feed is available, all sheep will require energy and protein. Read more about feeding and supplementing sheep during a drought.
2. Your financial position
Review your financial position. It may be worthwhile seeing your bank manager to work out what sheep management options would best suit your current financial position. You may need to sell some sheep, and help the rest to survive by paying for some feed. Or you may need to look at selling the class of sheep that will return the most money. Find out more about managing cash flow.
3. The effect of your plan on future grazing
Assess your current pasture utilisation rate (the amount of growth consumed by grazing animals), and work out what is sustainable for the predicted duration of the drought. Even though rain often occurs during winter, the drought may not break until well into the next summer. Winter rain does not generally break a drought but it may give some temporary relief for sheep by growing high-quality herbage. If cold weather follows winter rain, plants will not usually germinate. Winter rain and frosts will also cause rapid deterioration in dry pasture quality. You may need to reduce your flock to ensure the survival of your pasture. Read the Managing for drought in grazing lands fact sheet (PDF, 642KB) for more information.
Tips from past droughts
In the drought feeding and management of sheep (PDF, 2.7MB) booklet, farmers in Victoria who successfully survived the 1982 and 1994 droughts were asked what they did to get through. In summary, they:
- made plans and took actions early
- did simple budgets for various feeding and selling options
- knew their hay supplies and were prepared to ration roughage
- prepared cash flow budgets for 2–3 years
- reviewed decisions regularly
- acted quickly and decisively
- looked for opportunities
- remained positive
- planned a holiday
- were prepared to put sheep into stock containment areas to preserve their pastures and soil.
Predicting future drought events, and planning for them in advance, will help ensure that you are able to keep the best quality flock possible, while maintaining land condition.