Real Life

Real-life Aussie farmers: "We can't go on like this forever"

With the drought crippling farmers across the country, these two tough rural women refuse to give up.

By Brittany Smith

Megan Kuhn, 52, from Bundella, NSW, shares her story;

"I feel like I've failed"
My heart sank as my husband, Martin, 55, walked into the house looking troubled.
"It's getting pretty tough" he admitted. I tsked and shook my head.
We had 2000 merino sheep and 600 cattle on our farm in Bundella, NSW, but, after months without rain, we were in real trouble.
As grazier cattle farmers, we worked with our son, Marcus, 16, to care for our livestock.
But we were always at the mercy of the elements and right now, the land was dry as a bone.
The animals weren't just our livelihood, and the farm wasn't just our business.
We've never seen it this bad. We don't know where it will end!
We'd been putting aside hay and grain for years to last us in case a drought struck.
But after a year without decent rain, it was worse than anything we could have imagined.
We'd never seen it this bad.
The feed we'd saved up quickly dwindled and with every inch of NSW in drought, there was nowhere for us to buy more.
Every farmer in the state was as desperate as we were.
We had 89 heavily pregnant cows who were losing more weight as each day passed.
We knew it would be impossible to continue feeding all of our herd so we had a tough decision to make.
We could either keep them on the farm and they may end up wasting away or eventually be put down by Martin, or we could sell them and their unborn calves to an abattoir.I fought back tears looking out at the cattle we'd raised for years.
Martin putting out the grain for our sheep.
Martin was a typical farmer, stoic and strong but even he was misty eyed.
"I don't want to have to shoot them, Megs," he choked.
We couldn't bring ourselves to kill the cows ourselves, so we sold them to an abattoir.
There was no choice.
Watching the truck drive off with our cows was the hardest thing we'd ever done.
They were supposed to enjoy long lives on our farm and give birth to healthy calves.
I felt like I'd failed them.
Thinking about what would happen to them kept me up at night.
We still don't know when this drought will end, but Martin and I know we'll pull through.
That's what we tough country folk do.
We've put our heart and soul into this place and we refuse to let it slip away.

Margaret Fleck, 56, from Mullaley, NSW shares her story;

"When will it end?"
I felt frazzled as I phoned my friend, desperately searching for feed for my cattle.
"The prices are utterly outrageous," I cried to her.
My partner Paul, 57, and I had bought our beef cattle farm 19 years earlier and had accumulated 245 pregnant cows and 60 yearling heifers.
We'd always loved the farming way of life, working happily together from dusk until dawn.
But, after seven years of below-average rainfall, our property looked like a dust bowl and the creeks had completely dried up.
Without grass and plants for our livestock to graze on, we had no choice but to buy in feed from across Australia.
With so many farmers facing the same predicament, the costs were skyrocketing.
We simply had to dip in to our savings and pay up. It was that or lose our livelihood altogether.
Paul and I will put everything we can into this but we can't go on forever.
"We can't let the cattle waste away," I said.
Of course, we weren't the only ones struggling.
Every time I spoke to our farming friends or neighbours, they were stressed over feeding their livestock or getting them water.
Everyone was desperate for answers.
"When will this drought end?" we all asked.
Even if it rained tomorrow, most farmers would be in such debt, it would take years for us to recover.
But what choice did we have?
Paul and I continued buying in food for our livestock, but the drought was clearly taking its toll on the cows.
Without green pastures to graze on, some were losing weight.
One day Paul came to me looking grim.
"We're going to have to sell some of our herd at nine months old," he said. "We need the money for the feed."
The cost of feed is crippling.
It broke my heart watching the 170 youngsters being taken off early.
Normally, we'd care for the cattle until they were at least 18 months old.
Paul and I are determined to battle through this drought and keep our property, just like the rest of the Aussie farmers.
But with no end in sight, there may come a time when we're forced to decide just how much debt we want to carry.
We can't go on like this forever, but we'll keep fighting to save our land as long as we can.

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