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Goondiwindi producer's plan to beat El Nino

TAKING STOCK: Goondiwindi sheep grazier David Holland is moving out of cattle, to focus on dorpers amid predictions of a dry winter.
TAKING STOCK: Goondiwindi sheep grazier David Holland is moving out of cattle, to focus on dorpers amid predictions of a dry winter. Toni Somes

GOONDIWINDI grazier David Holland has made the tough decision to get out of cattle, amid forecasts of El Nino conditions for this winter.

It wasn't a case of negative thinking, he explained but sheer realism.

"I will probably have to give the cattle away - but it will cost what they are worth to feed them if it doesn't rain," he said.

The southern landholder has run a sheep and cattle operation on his 1120ha property, Holly Field, north-west of the border for 13 years.

I will probably have to give the cattle away, but it will cost what they are worth to feed them if it doesn't rain.

In a good season, when he measures the region's average annual rainfall of about 610mm, this country is capable of carrying 100 head of cattle and up to 1200 dorper breeders.

"We've had some dry years leading up to this one and we haven't had much rain, even now," Mr Holland said.

"I got between four and five inches (100-130mm) across the place about six weeks ago and I haven't had anything since then.

"The country came away after the rain faster than I have ever seen it but we are at a point now where we need follow-up."

When the Bureau of Meteorology released its winter outlook earlier this month Mr Holland said he knew he had to reassess stocking levels.

The bureau predicted a 70% chance of an El Nino developing in winter, with climate models suggesting the weather influence may begin as early as July.

El Nino is usually associated with below average rainfall over southern and eastern inland areas of Australia.

Bureau data shows about two-thirds of El Nino events since 1900 had resulted in severe drought over large parts of the continent.

Unwilling to take the risk of running out of stock water and paddock feed, Mr Holland opted to start selling cattle.

"I've sold about 30 head already - just steers and heifers, mixed breeds - but they were in good order," he explained. "Prices were bad when I started to offload them, down around $1.10c/kg then they got up to $1.50c/kg.

"Really, I think you need to be making $1.70-1.80c/kg to make cattle even worthwhile.

"I will probably have to give the next lot away, but it's better to get rid of them than to have to pay to feed them."

This south-western producer's immediate plans are for sheep and to further develop his dorper prime lamb operation.

When the Rural Weekly caught up with him, he had just sold lambs off grass country and weighing 38-44kg for $100 a head through Queensland's Wednesday sheep sale in Warwick.

"I will be pleased when the last of the cattle go, so I can concentrate on sheep, that's where the money is at the moment," he said.

"I went from merinos into dorpers about five or six years ago and the crossbreds do well, even when conditions are a bit tough."

These days he sells prime lambs off his grass country at 10-12 months and in the target trade market range of about 40kg live weight.

"If I get rid of the cattle, I should have enough feed to get through this winter, although I would like good rain now, before it gets really cold," Mr Holland said.

"I have ewes lambing now, which is the great thing about dorpers - they lamb all year.

"I am down a bit on numbers on account of the dry, so at the moment I have 700-800 ewes.

"But if the cattle go and it rains, I will be looking to build up numbers.

"It's not use hoping, though - you have to deal with what is happening now."

Topics:  el nino goondiwindi livestock warwick sheep sale