BUILDING IN diversification that will allow the flexibility to be opportunistic is the game plan at John and Airlie Blore's Belmont Station, north west of Broken Hill on the South Australian border.
The harshest drought on record has changed the face of the 48,500 hectare livestock operation, which in normal years would shear up to ten thousand Merinos.
When the rain does finally return, Mr Blore estimates the country will need at least six months for good ground coverage to return and probably a year of resting before thoughts can even turn to fully restocking.
And it's likely sheep, goats and maybe even beef will be run at Belmont in the future, as plans are underway to build the infrastructure, including exclusion fencing, to run a mix of species and to target different markets, including wool and meat.
"We know to have a future here, we have to be able to buy whatever is right at the time and to have that safety net of diversification," Mr Blore said.
"We also know we need the ability to both destock and restock quickly."
Mr Blore had been thinking diversification well before the drought took hold in 2017. Three years earlier, he had set up Silverton Goat Depot to provide an additional line of income.
It's one of three goat depots in Broken Hill.
The Blores buy goats from other pastoralists and on-sell to both abattoirs and restockers.
It's a side business that isn't affected by drought or flood and its is currently turning over around a thousand goats a week.
Silverton Depot has a wide variety of customers, ranging from Asian and United States export abattoirs in SA and Victoria to Queensland and central NSW restockers chasing smaller weaner goats.
The larger end go to US skin-off abattoirs and the smaller end to those sending dressed product to Asia, Mr Blore explained.
Those under 22 kilograms live weight are marketed to restockers online.
"In Queensland, subsidies to control wild dogs with fencing, along with the scrub country with upperstory foliage that is perfect for goats, have really seen the species take off in livestock enterprises," Mr Blore said.
When the depot kicked off, the over-the-hooks goat price was $2.50 a kilogram, compared to today's $9.50.
Those good prices, coupled with the reduction in rangeland production due to drought, are fuelling the heat in the goat market.
It's also heradling in a transition to managed goats, which Mr Blore says is a good thing to promote the maturation of the industry and provide the stability needed for trading markets.
The Blores made the decision to completely destock their Merinos in mid 2018.
At that stage they had been 18 months without any rain for germination.
"I was working off-farm and Dad had been feeding 4000 core breeders for four months while they lambed," Mr Blore said.
"We'd gone through $250,000 worth of feed, Dad was exhausted and livestock prices were reasonable so we made that decision, which at the time was considered relatively early."
In hindsight, it proved the right decision.
Since then, they've only had two good falls of rain - both around September last year.
"We were able to germinate annual herbage - spinach and clover - and annual saltbush but as soon as it warmed up, it burnt off and there's been no rain since," Mr Blore said.
They were able to buy in some young pregnant nannies on that feed but will sell them once they kid.
Rain in other NSW areas where they were able to secure agistment meant they also decided to buy in sheep from Western Australia last autumn.
The 2000 Merino ewes were put on country around Wilcannia.
"The intention was to bring them home at Christmas but we couldn't hang onto them in the end," Mr Blore said.
"We managed a lamb and fleece from them, so that did provide some income at least."
Never before has Belmont gone for such a long period without Merinos.
It was heavily destocked in the 2009 drought, but some core breeders were retained on agistment and brought home after rain.
The average 220mm of annual rain has been lucky to reach 60mm for the past five years and even that came in doses that were not of any use.
Still, like most livestock enterprises still in the grip of drought, the Blores want to stay in the game and are focussing on the changes they'll make, come rain, to be even more resilient.
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