Dry conditions on the Barkly spark big cattle uploads

Jon Condon, 16/04/2018

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THE lack of a proper traditional wet season across large parts of the north’s Barkly Tableland region has sparked some big cattle movements in the past few weeks, as pastoral companies adjust stock numbers to likely available feed for the rest of the year.

While some areas are in better shape than others, worst affected regions in the south and central parts of the Barkly have been busy since Easter shifting cattle early. Areas to the east of the NT/Queensland border are also very dry.

Australian Cattle & Beef Holdings’ spokesman David Foote said the Barkly had proved to be ‘particularly erratic’ this year, with some areas a lot better than others.

“There was no real wet season until you get west of Katherine, but places on the western side of the Barkly, closer to the Stuart Highway, by and large got better rain than those towards the Queensland border,” Mr Foote said.

“But for us (ACBH’s Barkly Downs, much further east, about 150km northwest of Mt Isa) it’s early weaning this year, and shifting older aged cows,” Mr Foote said.

Some of ACBH’s cows are coming south to agistment (not being in slaughter condition), while young cattle are coming southeast, to other ACBH properties in Queensland where better summer rain fell.

“We’re trying to retain a core breeding herd on Barkly Downs, but conditions heading into winter are very light, on our country,” he said.

But there’s a contrast further east, where ACBH’s Millungera (near Julia Creek in northwest Queensland) has had a great season, picking up 200mm earlier this year.

While ACBH was not consigning any stock to slaughter, export processors in Queensland have recently commented on a spike in offers for large runs of pastoral company cows off the Barkly over the past month or so.

Parts of Lake Nash are reported to be very dry, while Ardmore and Rocklands are in a similar boat.

Road Trains Australia Queensland manager Mike Bailey, based in Mt Isa, confirmed that there had been a lot of upload activity off areas of the Barkly since Easter.

“It’s earlier than normal and in bigger numbers,” he said. “It’s been busy for the past six weeks or so. There’s plenty happening.”

Some of the cattle were heading north, either to slaughter or live export out of Darwin, while others were heading east into Queensland – especially areas where good rain fell during February/March – or being relocated in internal transfers within other company properties. Some of the Queensland arrivals are destined for slaughter, while others are being consigned into feedlots/backgrounding or other company paddocks.

The quiet start to live export out of Darwin this year has meant different destinations for some of the cattle currently being shifted off the Barkly and Queensland’s northwest.

One recent consignment involved 18 decks off Headingly, on the NT border near Urandangi, to processors in Central Queensland. Another 36 decks of young cattle from another Barkly property went to a Central Queensland feedlot/backgrounding location recently, accounting for around 1000 head in that shipment alone. Another ten decks left Cloncurry recently heading north to the Katherine spelling yards, before live export.

Easter was a decision-making point for some Barkly operators, especially when no significant rain was delivered out of the earlier cyclone in the Gulf of Carpentaria during May.

Australian Agricultural Co’s NT regional manager Michael Johnson said the Barkly’s south, and southeastern portions were perhaps worst affected, extending from south of the Brunette Downs homestead all the way to Lake Nash.

“There’s some patchy areas in between that are OK, but that area is generally worse than others. That’s been the rainfall line,” he said.

AA Co’s Austral Downs has been impacted, with some better young breeders relocated, within other company holdings. Some of those have shifted north onto parts of Brunette Downs, for example. About 6000 breeders had already been removed off either Austral Downs or Avon Downs this year.

“Any of our meatworks turnoff cattle are probably just a little earlier than normal – we’re not being forced to sell cattle that we would otherwise keep this year,” Mr Johnson said.

He said the seasonal ‘lessons’ of particularly dry years like 2013 and 2008 across the Barkly had meant most operators were now taking a more conservative approach in a year like this.

“There will still be challenges this year, but making the moves to re-adjust stocking rates and getting the weaners off early is the key. There’s enough available feed to carry us through, with the numbers we are now heading for.”

While southern parts of NAPCo’s Alexandria are also very dry, those cattle will be moved internally, where more rain has fallen, Beef Central was told. The company’s expanding water development project on Alex (click here) will help that distribution process.

Some late rain of 70-100mm across parts of the southern Barkly had probably improved the seasonal situation from where it was heading earlier, producing some green feed, but only a short growing season, Mr Johnson said.

“But we’ve seen this coming, and have been fairly pro-active during January and February to manage it,” he said.

“Generally on the Barkly, if you make a few moves (lightening off numbers) in January, you get in front of the situation a bit. And then if you then get rain, it’s a bonus.”

“Region-wide, there’s a bit of that lightening off happening now,” he said.

“The fact that there’s been some good rain in other parts of northern Australia means we’re reasonably lucky, because there is feed to take these Barkly cattle to this year. In the last very dry year in 2013, the entire north west very dry.”




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