Big dry brings tough times

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian

One of WA's most respected cattlemen has issued a grim warning about the industry and dry conditions on stations in the East Kimberley.

Spring Creek Station owner Mike Shaw said he faced a battle to save his most valuable cattle after the lowest rainfall during the wet season in his three decades working on stations.

"I can't sell cattle," Mr Shaw said. "No one wants cattle right now and I've just got to try and protect my breeding stock. It is the worst start to a year I've had."

Spring Creek, which flows into Lake Argyle, usually has water in it until December but is expected to dry up by August.

Stations in the East Kimberley have had as little as 150mm rain since Christmas after missing out on their usual wet season soaking.

Mr Shaw said he would do all possible to give the 7000 cattle on his 121,400ha station the best chance of survival and was not counting on rain until December.

"I'll spread cattle out over the property and pull weaners off their mothers much earlier than I normally would to keep those breeders alive," he said.

In contrast, falls of up to 200mm in the West Kimberley this month delayed the start of mustering on some properties.

The whips are cracking now and mustering in full swing on most of the 94 pastoral leases in the Kimberley, which are home to about 700,000 head of cattle over an area about the size of Victoria.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association Kimberley division chairman Peter Camp, of Kalyeeda Station, said it would be a tough year, with cattle prices down about a $100 a head on this time last year to an average of $430 across all types.

"The huge reduction in dollars per head is having an impact on everyone's bottom line," he said.

Mr Camp and Mr Shaw said falling demand under the Indonesian import quotas and its restrictions on heavy cattle (over 350kg) were major problems.

Mr Shaw said prices per kilogram were back to 1980 levels but operational costs were 10 times higher. He has been unable to sell any cattle since May when he shipped 550 head to Indonesia from Darwin.

Mr Shaw said one thing in his favour was his team of five young jackaroos and jillaroos, three of them in their teens, who thrived on hard work and the challenges of station life.

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