Wet delivers a challenge

Coonamble turnaround as producers on alert for wet weather threats

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Cattle are coming down with three day sickness in the Coonamble district. Inset Local Land Services Coonamble-based vet Jillian Kelly.

Cattle are coming down with three day sickness in the Coonamble district. Inset Local Land Services Coonamble-based vet Jillian Kelly.

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The turn around from brown to green in the Coonamble district is remarkable but comes with a warning to keep alert for three day sickness and nitrate poisoning.

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The Coonamble district is experiencing three day sickness outbreaks for the first time in almost a decade, with the seasonal change producing a number of new challenges.

Three day sickness was first diagnosed in the district last month with Local Land Services warning it was likely to hit other areas within the central west as a result of increased mosquito and fly numbers. LLS veterinarian Jillian Kelly said Quambone had received 330 millimetres of rain in one week while other areas landed 200mm over a fortnight.

"The turnaround hit quickly, with no warning," she said. "We had rain and easterly wind. Producers didn't get the chance to vaccinate."

Dr Kelly said the decision to vaccinate for three day sickness depended on circumstances.

"We're saying that if you have a high value animal it might be worth the $15-$20 a dose," she said.

However, a shortage of vaccine might mean it takes seven to 10 days to mount an immunisation campaign.

Jo and Jim O'Brien, Glenanaar, Gulargambone, recorded 420mm in February and have feed armpit high.

"We kept our Hereford herd strong, healthy and well vaccinated during the stressful times of drought using lots of feed and plenty of good advice from Dr Kelly," Mrs O'Brien said.

Brown gums in sheep are a sign of nitrate poisoning.

Brown gums in sheep are a sign of nitrate poisoning.

Key on the list of challenges was looking after early weaned calves that were compromised by dust and dry with a higher incidence of pink eye now exacerbated by increased fly populations.

The turnaround from dust and brown to chest high grass is a credit to the fertility of the Coonamble district, according to grazier Adam Macrae, who recorded 280mm over six weeks.

"The turnaround is just unbelievable," he said. "The country deserves so much credit for coming back. We'll see if the market holds. We will put in a fodder crop. At least we have options and that's wonderful."

But all that February moisture has thrown up its own menu of challenges, with chest high pigweed and cat head dominating what had been bare paddocks.

"There is wild turnip and we're hoping for clover," he said.

"Prior to the break we were 100 per cent feeding and cattle in the paddocks are still on self feeders as they transition to grass, with 200 weaners having access to both. But the consumption of grain is still high."

That is a good thing, said Dr Kelly, who warns that pigweed has been tested at 6800mg nitrates per kilogram while some cat head tested at 16,800mg, or more than three times the acceptable limit.

Right now Mr Macrae is on the lookout for three day sickness. As a part time teacher at Coonamble High, his biggest concern was their Limousin, Charolais, Shorthorn and cross bred trade steers for Sydney Royal.

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