Dry times in the rangelands

Page last updated: Tuesday, 18 August 2020 - 1:00pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

DAFWA provides data and information on current season through its network of automatic weather stations and seasonal climate forecasts through the Statistical Climate Information system.

It works with businesses and managers in all seasonal circumstances to improve resilience to adverse climatic influences on productivity, including dry times.

In dry years, DAFWA provides tailored sets of actions and information to assist the pastoral industry and agribusiness in the management of seasonal conditions and their consequences.

"Life as an ongoing learning experience"

Reflection and suggestions, 2009 dry season in Pilbara, Gascoyne and Murchison

While managing properties through dry times is a challenge for pastoralists and others there are some valuable lessons to be recorded during these difficult times. The old saying: “Experience is what you get just after you need it” is certainly true for times such as these.

Decisions and actions already taken can’t be changed retrospectively, but there are opportunities to learn from the experiences and to plan to manage the outcomes of those decisions.

Reviewing and recording experiences during a dry time may also be good opportunity to get the management group together to contribute their knowledge to the record. The aim is not to develop a ‘stick’ to beat yourself with, but to put a positive spin on poor seasonal conditions by making it a learning experience.

Reflection won’t fix the current situation when times are dry but may help identify better ways to manage the next time there is a succession of low rainfall years ... And yes, it is safe to assume that there will be a next time!

Record your reflections and experiences in a form that can be easily retrieved for future reference. Memories are often an unreliable record when it comes to convincing someone else of “what it was like back then”.

Collections of photos (including people, landscapes, monitoring sites, cattle), historical rainfall records, labels from feed products (with notes of what worked well and what didn’t), mustering and sale records with notes contributed by all concerned, are likely to be much more useful.

Dry times are as good a time as any to make a start on the information and records you keep for your property, and not just the ones nestled in your grey matter.

Your collection of information will be a strong resource to share with others who may manage the station in the future – little point in them having to go through the same painful learning experiences!

After the grass is green it may be okay for reviewing financial records, feed costs, and how particular strategies worked, but it’s a bit late to take photos of the stuff that hurts and memories can become more unreliable as time goes on.

Example of information collection and reflection

Some pastoralists may (or may not) like to reflect on their mustering and sale decisions, and the timing of these actions earlier in the season. Some will have held out for winter rains, based on probabilities but these rains failed to eventuate.

Market opportunities also diminish as time passes. Some pastoralists will have sold cattle younger and lighter than usual and weaned calves younger than normal as part of a strategy to reduce nutritional stress on breeders.

Could these strategies have been managed differently and what additional considerations could be included next time?

This weaning strategy will reduce the stress on breeders but it has a cost. There is the immediate cost of feeding and an effect of younger sales on future sales in following years.

Experiences and feelings worth documenting

  • In hindsight (a truly great thing – like experience) what sales strategy would have produced a better outcome?
  • What could have been done to better prepare for the extended dry season?
    – more attention to assessing feed availability during the previous year?
    – reduced numbers earlier while more cattle were stronger and there were more sale opportunities?
    – have cattle numbers increased over the years?
    – reflect on carrying capacity – has it been steadily declining?
    – are there better market opportunities for different cattle genotypes?
  • How did the station infrastructure work – are there opportunities to improve waters, open up additional country, etc. in future years?
  • Consider discussions with a financial advisor and accountant to review financial and taxation opportunities and responsibilities that may be available from increased sales during the dry period
  • When it does rain, and it surely will, are there opportunities to close up some paddocks or waters to spell country?


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