ON THIS Day of the Ponies (Melbourne Cup Day if you’re outside Australia!) here’s a yarn about mountains of hay.
One is moving east to west from the coast of Queensland, and another is about to start moving south to north from New South Wales, and both have as their targets the drought areas of Longreach and Aramac in the parched north-west.
The first, a mountain of freshly-mown north Queensland hay, is slowly making its way like a tide, from the wet tropics of the Pioneer Valley west to our drought-stricken savannahs.
In less than a year, 800kg bale after 800kg bale of pasture grasses from cattle properties along the Great Dividing Range have been cut, trussed and loaded on semi-trailers.
The latest count is 3250 bales, roughly 2.6 million kg or 2600 tonnes of cattle and sheep fodder.
Think of a mountain of hay like a pyramid 20 metres wide, 20 metres long and 150 metres high into the clear, blue Outback skies … that’s how much hay has been shipped so far, and there’s more on the way.
And at $50 a bale (before shipping) that’s a donation of over $160,000 from coastal farmers to Outback graziers.
The jaw-dropping beauty of this exercise is that the farmers in the east are the same ones struck by Cyclone Marcia around Rockhampton earlier this year, Cyclone Yazi in 2011 and Cyclone Larry in 2005.
“I guess they know a disaster when they see one,” said Longreach Rotary President and agricultural scientist, Dr David Phelps.
“Our friends in the Pioneer Valley Rotary Club came out west early last year and after one visit they decided to organise the great grass giveaway,” said Dr Phelps.
“Our local Rotary Club organises the transport and the State Government rebates the freight, freeing up Rotary funds to be redirected into other charitable uses-like helping school kids travel for sport, Scouts and dance, or for giving farming families Christmas hams and hot-cross buns at Easter”.
Dr Phelps, a friend of mine who is also known as “Dr Mitchell Grass” for his work researching how to improve the native grass pastures of western Queensland, calculates the 150 metre high grass pyramid as providing the same amount of feed for cattle and sheep as about 5,000 hectares in a good Longreach season.
“It amazing to think that 5-50ha paddocks up around Mackay are providing the same amount of feed as 5,000 ha out west — it’s enough to feed one property’s worth of cattle for a season!”
“It is being spread pretty thinly across the whole district, so it’s not perfect, but when we have what we call Hay Days at strategic points in the district everyone gets something and something is definitely better than nothing!”
The second mountain of hay, according to our friend and Aramac grazier Jenny Todd, is a result of the hard work of the NSW Burrumbuttock Hay Runners and looks like setting a world record with more than 100 trucks loaded with the stuff. It’s backed by Rotary too (disclaimer: Pip and I are both members too).
Look out if you’re on the road … Jenny says the Hay Runners are coming soon.