FIGHTING against a cyclical weather pattern, Julia Creek cattleman Anthony Anderson hedged his bets and opted to agist 800 breeders in the hope of avoiding a costly buy-back.
Working at Eddington Station since 1995, a 17,000-hectare property in north-west Queensland, Anthony has spent several years focusing on breeding pure Droughtmaster cattle in order to build his stud and commercial enterprise.
"I grew up in Cloncurry where my parents owned and operated a butcher shop and abattoir business for 28 years, but they sold it off and we ended up with a number of properties, including Eddington, which I share-own and manage," Anthony said.
Stricken by drought for the past three years, the property has been stripped back from a 1400-head capacity to just 400 head of cows and calves, and 80 bulls.
Anthony has also sent 800-plus head of cows and joined heifers to agistment.
"It's extremely dry here at the moment - we've only had 6 inches of patchy rain over the course of the year when our average is normally around 17in, so we're up against it at the moment."
Living at Eddington with wife Rachael and their children, Anthony established a Droughtmaster stud in 2003 after being in the commercial game for a number of years.
"We had a good quality herd and we decided to go into it to capitalise on the quality instead of focusing on quantity," Anthony said, adding he enjoyed the challenge of breeding a pure herd.
"I had a small registered herd and classified a few hundred cows as D1.
"After 12 years I have just produced my first D5 purebred genetics - it takes five generations before they become classed as a pure Droughtmaster breeder.
"The commercial cow herd is also an accredited commercial herd."
Anthony runs the stud and commercial operation on very strict fertility, mothering ability, weaner weight, temperament programs, and has been control-joining his breeders with a four-month window for the past 20 years with positive results.
"It all started after the 2004 drought.
"It tends to rain after Christmas and, in a normal program, cows are calving in October, so if you only get an average season, you end up feeding out supplement and the calf gets everything and the cow still dies.
"It was a full management strategy to prevent the feed lick being wasted, and keeping the cows and weaners in forward store condition, subject to whatever season you're dealt."
Anthony joins his cows on March 10 and pulls the bulls out of the paddock on July 10 at 4 per cent.
"I preg-test cows and wean all calves in September - this allows the cows to have a three-month break in the driest time of the year. I have full control on feeding supplement and body condition with this program.
Anthony said he "bit the bullet" in 2013 when he sent his Droughtmaster heifers and cows off-property, but it is a decision he has stuck by.
"I've got a high-quality herd and, as far as quality goes, they're probably in the top percentile for the breed, so it would be nearly impossible to replace the bloodline.
"We've got 30 years of genetics in them and they've been away for three years now trying to stay alive."
With 550 cows and joined heifers north of Camooweal and close to 400 joined heifers south of Gayndah, Anthony said he could have sold the same cattle back in March for about $550/head, but restocking would cost double that with calves at foot.
"They'll come back to me now with calves, and I think it's the best decision we could have made at the time."
Working off a three-year weather cycle, Anthony said he was expecting the drought to break within the next year and hoped to have his agisted cattle back home at Eddington by mid-2016.
"The last three-year drought here was in the 1980s and you do prepare for it, but 2012 was a brilliant year with three before it - we took the punt and thought 2013 might be the start of the dry, so we started to prepare ourselves.
"It's been hard work and mentally it's challenging, but you've got to stick with your decisions.
"It's hard to see genetics being lost but we plan to get it back."
Anthony said genetic loss and production were sitting at about 30pc, down due to the drought, but with a break in the season, by 2017 things would be back at full capacity.
"The 450 cows an calves left at Eddington are on a dry cow lick and blocks to supplement them and we'll start weaning next week, and then begin feeding a cotton seed base and lick with a bit of molasses and protein mix to keep them kicking along.
"I've had to feed a lot over the past two years and I'm sick of it.
"I'm stretching it as far as I can this year before I start because you can't stop before the rain comes - you have to commit to it and it gets very expensive."
Although he has had tough days, Anthony said he still enjoyed the challenge of producing quality cattle.
"I guess everything I have achieved and gained I can pat myself, my family and my father on the back for it, and it's a good lifestyle - I wouldn't do anything else.
"You have to be able to look back and take the tough times in your stride, and learn from it and be prepared - because it's going to keep coming."