The cost of feeding sheep through a drought is not something many livestock producers really consider as they know they have to feed if they are to maintain the integrity of the flock.
But analysing the direct costs is a worthwhile exercise, and for Fraser Parker on his family property at Cookardinia formulating a spreadsheet has thrown up some very surprising results.
"The last five years I've developed a spreadsheet because I realised I was monitoring our cropping costs, and livestock costs like shearing, drenching, then I realised that our biggest cost for livestock was feeding them," he said.
"I wasn't really monitoring that, I was just feeding them so I thought I really need to monitor the big inputs."
Mr Parker noted with his cropping enterprise he was recording fertilizer and chemical inputs against the income but with his livestock enterprise he wasn't analysing on a per head basis his direct feeding costs.
"In good years it is probably not an issue," he reflected.
"But as we are getting more of these tight springs, I realised feeding is far and away our largest input and I wasn't monitoring it."
A spreadsheet was started, and Mr Parker said he has been upgrading it each year to give him precise information.
"Whenever I would feed I would put it in the spreadsheet and it would keep a running tally what each ewe was costing to date," he said.
"Before I put the cell in the spreadsheet which kept the running tally,I really didn'thave a good idea of what the costs were."
Initially the program was set up to determine how much fodder was fed out during a specific period, and therefore how much fodder needed to be conserved on an annual basis.
"Initially it was also to help with budgeting, knowing I had so many hectares of grazing crops sown and I estimated how much I might conserve," he said.
"I really needed to know exactly how much I am using each year based on the type of season we are having and I think product fed to the stock is relative to the yield of the crop."
Mr Parker pointed out the conundrum associated with feeding stock through a drought when pasture and grain production would also be limited due to lack of rain.
"If you are feeding stock because of the dry season then your yields are going to be down," he said.
"That is a double whammy to the budget and I needed something to refer to so I could look ahead and see how much grain I needed to store and how much silage I needed to produce."
He had all of those figures, but then Mr Parker realised he had only half the picture with the costs of feeding his sheep the biggest input but he hadn't taken into consideration the value of the sheep at the end.
"When I was feeding sheep through winter last year it was becoming a chore as it was for everyone, but when I put the cell in to calculate what I had fed the cost was actually only two thirds of the cost I had in my mind," he said.
"So the next day I went out feeding, realising I was actually going to make money by hanging onto the stock and feeding them rather than becoming pessimistic about how much it was costing me."
Ewes were predominantly fed wheat grown on farm and weaners were predominantly fed pellets.
Mr Parker said his figures to date, based on last years wool cut and what he has fed out from last November through to the end of May, the ewes cost $90 to feed through a dry summer and Autumn following a very dry spring.
Because the ewes have been fed well their wool cut should be at least 6.5 kg/hd @ $13/kg ex. GST net of all selling costs netting $85/head therefor their wool cut will almost cover their feeding costs and if the pellets (used to prevent a weed problem) were replaced with grain, costs would be lower.
He also paid tribute to the support and guidance from Rob Inglis, Elders livestock production manager based in Wagga Wagga.
"Last year was very tough on our ewes, but this year it is a totally different story," he said.
"With Rob's guidance, it has turned me around as far as feeding my sheep.
"Instead of trying to save feed, and make the sheep battle so I could sell grain Rob got me to feed them a lot better."
Mr Parker has also done a lifetime ewe course, again under the direction of Mr Inglis and he credits the course with alerting him to condition score of all his sheep.
"This year I'm expecting a higher wool cut with limited tender wool," he said.
"They haven't had a setback and now with plenty of paddock feed, they are lambing in mob sizes of 6.7 ewes/ha in paddocks ranging from 1500 to 3000 kg/ha DM while the weaners are all on grazing crops,the pastures are stocked at 14 DSE/ha mid winter.
Mr Parker pointed out the excellent clover strike and said that is a result of maintaining ground cover and topsoil.
He also used the same spreadsheet to finish crossbred lambs to calculate a breakeven price and to calculate profit based on their initial store value,feeding cost and sale price received at the end.