Water sports took on a new meaning for Bedgerabong producer Murray Brown, New South Wales, last month with the family ski boat being used to tow several ‘tinnies’ full of lambs for sale across 1.2-metre-deep floodwater at his ‘Glamis’ property.
About two-thirds of the property flooded for six weeks in September and October. He lost 90 per cent of his wheat crop and 70pc of improved pastures so was keen to recoup his losses and capitalise on good lamb prices.
A forward contract of $6.20 a kilogram carcase weight was secured at Woolworths, Tamworth. The 272 Poll Dorset-cross lambs averaged 24.3kgcw and averaged $158 a head.
“We knew the lambs were ready to sell, but they were stranded in an area that was hard to access due to floodwaters,” Murray said.
“The area of the property they were on also had no shearing shed, so we couldn’t shear them; their wool was getting a bit longer and I was concerned about flies if they were left any longer. I was also concerned that as floodwaters dried up more stock would be coming onto the market so was keen to sell them before prices dropped.”
Murray, who farms in a family partnership with wife Katy and his parents Scott and Deirdre, built a set of portable yards near the floodwater and set-up panels in two aluminium boats, before tying pet lamb ‘Shaun’ in the yards to encourage the lambs to enter.
Between 16 and 23 lambs were loaded onto the two boats, which were secured to each other for extra stability, then dragged out by hand to the family’s ski boat, which towed them across 700 metres of floodwater to load onto a waiting truck on the other side. The truck then had to travel to Forbes via Condobolin due to all of the roads being closed. This trip was 200 kilometres compared to the normal 50km trip to Forbes.
“It’s something I’ve never had to do before but I knew we had the infrastructure and I think it was worth the effort,” he said.
“Thankfully a few neighbours and friends were able to help out.”
“We have taken a big hit with the floods so the money from selling these lambs will really help.”
Owning land with Lachlan River frontage, Murray has experienced floods before with flooding to this extent occurring every 25 to 30 years.
While the area has experienced considerable rain, by the end of October the Browns had 610 millimetres of rain in comparison to their average of 475-500mm. Even heavier rain further up the catchment contributed to the Lachlan bursting its banks.
The Browns run 700 first-cross ewes which are joined to Poll Dorset rams, alongside a Border Leicester stud with 200 stud ewes and 40 Angus and Angus-cross beef cattle. About 240ha is planted to winter cereals – wheat, barley and oats – and a further 100ha is irrigated for lucerne seed and hay production.
“We had plenty of warning beforehand so we were able to coordinate what we did,” Murray said.
“A third of the property has levy banks that are 1.3 metres tall so that prevented flooding in those parts of the property, but we did have to do a bit of shovelling at times to shore up the banks.”
Lambs were weaned three weeks earlier and also sold earlier due to management decisions to spread stock across flood-proof areas of the farm. Ewes were kept in one area and lambs in another.
“We’ve now sold 90pc of our autumn-drop lambs,” Murray said.
“We sold twice as many at one stage compared with what we usually do because we knew another flood was coming and it would be two to three weeks before we could sell lambs again.”
The tops of their woolly lambs were sold at Forbes Central West Livestock Exchange at an estimated 24kgcw on August 23 at $162. A fortnight later about 230 lambs sold to $159, averaging $147. Then the remainder were sold on October 4. The remainder of the lambs will be sold as extra heavy lambs in February along with the July-August born lambs.
Floodwaters have since receded, but Murray described the ground left as “equivalent to a drought, it looks like bare earth”.
“Our neighbours have estimated the floods as being equivalent to 1974 levels,” he said.
Ewes are scanned in January and empty ewes are joined to lamb in July-August.
Running a Poll Dorset ram over first-cross ewes has been a key management decision at ‘Glamis’ for 40-plus years.
“We’ve run Poll Dorset rams for as long as I can remember,” Murray said.
“It’s a market-driven decision; they produce the most even, consistent type of lamb that the market demands, whether that be a trade lamb or an extra heavy lamb. The first-cross ewes are very good mothers and the Poll Dorset ram over them, they produce outstanding new season lambs with the opportunity to market the lambs with minimal inputs and maximum returns over a short period of time.
“We aim at selling new season lambs, and about 90pc of our lambs are sold before shearing,” Murray concluded.