Article by: Hari Yellina
A dairy farmer in New South Wales has described the terrifying moment he saw a fifth of his 300-strong herd carried away by roaring floodwaters. As he watched helplessly, Paul Weir, from Lismore in the state’s North West, managed to capture the horrendous sight on film. He told AAP, “I observed about 70 or 80 people leave that morning, the gate was open, and there was nothing I could do.” Mr. Weir, who was visibly moved, described the incident as “one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had” on Monday. “To witness your life’s work, your herd’s genetics – powerless, I couldn’t get to them and had to simply sit there and watch.”
Mr. Weir has been searching for his missing cows since then, and has found roughly 15 of the total of 150 animals that were washed away, but the majority has vanished. “It’s all about trying to get as many of them back as I can; it’s a lovely feeling to see them,” Mr Weir added. He learned on Thursday afternoon that another of his cows had been discovered eight kilometres away. “We’ve been feeding these cows since they were two days old, and they’ve become part of the family… these animals are no different from your dog; the only difference is that we have hundreds of them,” he said.
According to Graham Forbes, vice chair of dairy advocacy organisation eastAus Milk, Mr Weir’s dairy farm is one of 15 in the Lismore region that has suffered “catastrophic” damage as a result of the floods. Mr Forbes, a dairy farmer from Gloucester, New South Wales, is assisting in the coordination of recovery efforts for struggling farmers. Mr Forbes told AAP that “we’ve organised helicopters to send supplies in to some of the farms; they’ve needed generators and electric motors to get their dairy back up and running.” The key tasks are milking and feeding cows, as well as removing the carcasses of dead animals.
“There are dead cows on some people’s lawns in Lismore, and they need to be dealt of,” he explained. Shaughn Morgan, CEO of eastAus Milk, predicted that the damaged dairies would take years to recover. Nevertheless, farmers are resilient; they will return to their farms and want to restore production to ensure Australian food security. This will have an impact on milk production because NSW and Queensland provide the majority of fresh domestic milk on the east coast. Colin Thompson, the dairy chair for NSW Farmers, is pushing farmers to seek assistance, adding that the NSW government has established a state co-ordination centre to assist those affected.
Farmers affected by the floods should fill out the NSW Department of Primary Industries natural disaster damage survey so the government knows what’s needed and where. Mr. Weir has been blown away by the assistance he’s gotten. Strangers have shown up unannounced with food, while his surviving herd is being milked at a neighbouring property. It’s incredibly humbling to have those little moments of a day that genuinely cheer you up,” he remarked. “I’m really amazed by the outpouring of support… my phone never stops ringing.”