Dwindling Drovers Scour Australian Pastures as Drought Bites

AUSTRALIA - Australia's worst drought in a century is sending ranchers in search of drovers, whose ranks have fallen so low that experienced men -- and women -- can command more than $3,000 a week to move cattle and sheep to green pastures
calendar icon 8 February 2007
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It may be the drovers' last stand: The overland routes on which they once herded livestock from ranches to sale yards thousands of kilometers away have been replaced by rail tracks, roads and towns.

Only a handful of drovers remain and the diminishing opportunities for work in normal years mean that few newcomers are learning the trade, said John Duryea, 52, who manages stock routes west of Sydney.

``In a drought, people want drovers to come out of the woodwork,'' Duryea said. ``When the seasons are better, they just let them drop off.''

Ranchers in the world's second-largest beef-exporting country may come to regret letting the number of drovers decline. Drovers herd animals from depleted land to fresh pastures that are increasingly hard to find. After five years of drought in some areas, many stock owners are being forced to sell or slaughter cattle they can't feed, including stud beasts.

``This is the core breeding stock,'' Bay Wilson, 53, said in December as he moved 550 cattle around public pastures in New South Wales state, part of the so-called Long Paddock, with 15 dogs and two horses. ``If people have to sell them, they can be behind for years.''

Cattle prices in Australia, second to Brazil among beef exporters, plunged 24 percent in 2006 as farmers culled their herds. The number of beasts slaughtered rose for a sixth straight month in December to 720,000, the most since records began in 1979, according to the Bureau of Statistics in Canberra.

Source: Bloomberg.com
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