Numbers soar at Scone Sale Yard as drought forces Upper Hunter farmers to de-stock

“Desperate”. That’s the word Peter MacCallum uses to describe the exodus of animals from the region’s farms.

More than double the usual number of cows, calves and bulls were sold at Scone Sale Yard in January, with farmers making the tough decision to shed stock much earlier than they planned – many also selling animals they’d intended to hang onto.

They might have earned as much as triple if they’d been able to hang on, but many landholders can’t afford to keep the animals any longer.

Mr MacCallum, a stock agent who’s been selling in Scone for almost 50 years, said the situation was “an absolute sell-off”.

“The situation is changing so quickly from week to week. People who weren’t in trouble at Christmas time are in big trouble,” he said.

“We’re selling a lot of cattle we shouldn’t be selling. A lot of calves wouldn’t normally be sold until next spring, and the cows - a lot of good breeding cows that wouldn’t be sold at all. But they’ve got to go and that’s that.

“We’re seeing some pretty desperate things – people under a lot of pressure.”

Figures from Upper Hunter Shire Council show that 11,311 head of livestock were sold at Scone Sale Yard last month – more than double the 5546 in January, 2017.

It dwarves the three-year January average of 4175 and the five-year average of 4296.

Peter White, who runs historic property Belltrees north-east of Scone, has sent 1000 head away so far.

Mr White said the cost of feeding was a major reason to de-stock. 

He was having about 30 tonnes of feed brought to his property each week at about $1000 a tonne.

Peter White runs historic property Belltrees, about 30 minutes drive from Scone. Picture: Simon McCarthy

Peter White runs historic property Belltrees, about 30 minutes drive from Scone. Picture: Simon McCarthy

“It’s so easy to have a share [in a business] because you don’t have to feed the damned things. But when you’ve got mouths, you’ve got to feed them,” he said.

On Monday, Merriwa farmer Ron Campbell was making arrangements to send 475 sheep, 55 cows and three bulls away. He said his income had been put back by about 25 per cent so far.

“There’ll probably be a further 25 per cent [of stock] go soon,” he said. 

“This next year is going to be the worst time because we do not have the same numbers to sell.”

  • ‘Income lost as farmers sell-off stock’ is part of an ongoing series of reports by the Newcastle Herald, Maitland Mercury, Singleton Argus and Hunter Valley News investigating the effects of drought of local farmers in the Upper and Lower Hunter.
This story Income lost as farmers sell-off stock in hard, dry times first appeared on Newcastle Herald.