Aaron Bunch Journalist with Australian Associated Press | Collection of published work | + 61 484 008 119 | abunch@aap.com.au

Aaron Bunch
Qld stock routes full as NSW drought bites

Stock routes are being denuded as NSW farmers drive their herds north, competing for feed with Queensland graziers like Peter Cookson.

August 23, 2018

When Queensland grazier Peter Cookson pushed his cattle onto stock routes to find feed, he hoped it might get him through to the rains.

But after two months of droving through the state’s southwest, he’s been forced to rethink his plan as cattle herds driven up from NSW compete for rapidly dwindling vegetation.

The third-generation farmer says that after a “long, nagging” drought on his 40,000-acre property near St George, and a doubling of grain-feed prices, he was forced to push the majority of his cattle off his barren land.

“Some people have de-stocked completely, others have pulled back to a minimal herd … we took the cattle on the road,” he told AAP.

With plenty of mulga and grass along stock routes, it seemed like a good option for his 900-head strong herd.

“We had feed in front of all the way, we could have kept walking … the route we were for the first month hadn’t seen stock in years,” Mr Cookson said.

But that changed quickly as the drought bit hard in NSW.

“Mobs were trucked in and walked in from different areas and they’ve decimated some of our potential avenues. They ate them out.”

Mr Cookson said he’s now been warned by his local shire that it’s considering closing the stock routes.

“They think there’s a great mob of stock coming and they should close the routes because they’ll be further eaten out,” he said.

Interstate cattle mobs often use southern Queensland’s stock routes but the drought is adding to the number of drovers heading north.

AAP spoke to several southern Queensland shire representatives who confirmed a significant influx in the number of NSW drovers in the area.

Balonne Shire chief executive Matthew Magin says with pastures below their average size due to low rainfall, the extra cattle were impacting the stock routes’ ability to regrow.

“There’s certainly a lot (of drovers) on the road around the district … mostly from NSW, they’re coming up because of the drought,” he said.

Agforce director Peter Hall said the Queensland government needed to overhaul the management of the state’s 2.6 million-hectare network for travelling livestock.

“The stock route network has been plagued for decades by issues such as overgrazing by producers,” he said.

Out on the road, Mr Cookson faces the prospect of trucking his cattle 10-hours north to an agistment lot at $50 per head.

That’s a lot of money to pay when the sale price of the cattle has dropped from around $1300 to $600 in just three months, he said.

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