No matter the season you have to keep making decisions according to Moonan Flat farmer Ian MacCallum, "Bellsbrook'

This time last year farmers were faced with the grim reality of hungry livestock, fast disappearing water supplies and a worsening seasonal outlook.

Today it isn't starving stock that is causing heartache but how best to minimise bloat and make the most of a spring flush.

No matter the season you have to keep making decisions according to Moonan Flat farmer Ian MacCallum, "Bellsbrook' who has spent more than six decades working on his cattle and sheep property located in the foothills of the Barrington Tops east of Scone.

Ian MacCallum, 'Bellsbrook' Moonan Flat.

Ian MacCallum, 'Bellsbrook' Moonan Flat.

What he has learnt over those years managing droughts, market fluctuations and ever increasing problems with wild dogs is you simply have to keep making decisions number one, always aim to breed top quality stock with tight control on bulls and rams and lastly pregnancy test everything so you know what to cull to achieve the best outcomes.

"No two droughts are the same and I'd have to say the last one was the worst I have been through mainly because of the water situation as we were having to cart water for the first time in my lifetime on the farm," he said

"Although unlike some droughts, the markets for livestock, held up provided you had a good product."

The MacCallum family culled their breeders numbers by 50 per cent from 400 to 200 and early weaned all the calves last year down to six weeks of age. Buying in 30 tonnes of grain a month they fed the calves, some cows and heifers plus their ewes.

"We retained our best breeders with a particular emphasis on our heifers so we could restart our breeding program quickly once the drought broke," he said.

"Containment feeding last spring/summer was a first for us and it really worked. As we have been selling cattle on a regular basis into a very strong market and we still have our core breeders.

"We were feeding 400 ewes and we marked 500 lambs - so both the cattle and sheep enterprises have survived in good order."

Bruce Scrivener, 'Springvale' Yarrowitch.

Bruce Scrivener, 'Springvale' Yarrowitch.

Further north on the eastern fall at Yarrowitch, Bruce Scrivener, 'Springvale' said he was six when the last drought of a similar magnitude occurred.

"Back in 1946 all the rivers on the east coast dried up into only waterholes and that happened again this drought - so its been pretty tough for everyone," he said.

Before moving to Yarrowitch 24 years ago he and his wife Helen lived on their property at Coopacurripa near Wingham.

To survive this drought they culled their breeder numbers of 30 per cent, based mainly on age, but kept as many heifers as they could.

"We sold everything over seven years and were getting ready to sell everything over six years until the rains arrived in late summer, " he said.

"As for the heifers we normally keep 15 per cent but we lifted that number substantially so we could increase our breeders ourselves rather than having to buy in stock once the drought broke.

"We never ran out of water but we were working very hard feeding the stock we had, especially all the calves we weaned last summer. Having access to grain and the equipment to feed cattle makes it possible to keep more stock on hand than in previous droughts."

He said like many people he was shocked and pleased how the country and the livestock bounced back after the tough seasons both had endured. To provide cash flow cull females were fed grain and sold regularly to Wingham meat works.

One major lesson he says he learnt from previous droughts was to have plenty of on-farm water storage available.

"When we bought this farm we significantly increased stock water supplies and at the height of drought we had an excavator here cleaning those dams out to keep them in top condition," he said.

Returning to the Upper Hunter as he travels around the district Mr MacCallum describes it as being virtually devoid of any cattle and sheep.

"So many properties are now basically empty as all the stock was sold and that has big impacts on our local economy," he said.

"People are buying in cattle mainly, but they are very expensive at present, so they can't really restock as quickly as they would like.

"As I have said previously retaining that core breeding herd is vital and more emphasis should be placed on that the next time authorities are making decisions during a drought regarding assistance."

Despite the rains, which have transformed the landscape, the MacCallums continue their long battle with wild dogs.

Professional shooters do their best but no sooner have some nasty mature dogs been removed than others arrive. "More management is required or soon there will be no sheep in this perfect sheep country," he lamented.