School friends Molly Cattle and Chloe Worner relished the chance to leave the drought behind in West Wyalong, in central New South Wales and hit the big smoke for a week to exhibit their Angora goat.
The 16-year-olds, who live on neighbouring farms, travelled 500 kilometres to the Royal Easter Show in Sydney, and were among many who have had to destock because of the drought.
The girls said it was an experience they had been looking forward to for months.
“It’s so good to come to Sydney to be able to talk about the goats and teach people in the city who don’t know a lot about animals,” Molly said.
“People in the city look at our Angora goats and think they’re sheep. It’s funny seeing their reaction when we explain they’re actually goats.”
Royal Easter Show helps farmers reset and head back home
A talking point around the showground this year was the importance of taking a break away from the land.
Royal Agricultural Society of NSW general manager Murray Wilton said the toll the drought was having was evident.
“The show gives them some respite and a bit of a break away to catch up with family and friends they haven’t seen for 12 months.
“You can forget what’s happening at home, reset and head back to the farm.”
Mr Wilton anticipated there would be 860,000 people visit the show, well short of the record of more than a million.
Entries in some livestock categories were also down.
“Dairy cattle numbers are down, and beef numbers are down slightly, which is due to the drought without a doubt,” Mr Wilton said.
“When you look at the quality of the livestock that are here it’s not a true representation of how tough it is out in regional Australia.”
Angus cattle, the feature cattle breed, had been impacted by the weather.
“We had just over 300 head, which is a record number of exhibits for a showing of Angus in Australia, but it could have been more around 400 if there weren’t droughts and floods,” Diana Wood said.
“It costs a lot of money to get animals to Sydney and those who didn’t get cattle here have come to watch.”
Pig exhibits were also well down on previous years.
Producers in western parts of New South Wales are battling with drought and difficult market conditions for the Australian pork industry.
“The drought at home has meant we’ve cut our sow numbers back from 50 to about 30,” said Richard Cole, a pig farmer from Forbes, in the NSW central west.
Mr Cole brought his 150kg Landrace pig to the show and took out the top title of Pig of the Show.
“The number of pigs entered here at the show has dropped by about 30 per cent,” Mr Cole said.
“And that’s because of the drought, the high cost of feed, and the worst downturn in the pig industry I’ve seen in my 50-plus years of being a farmer.”
A good year for sheep, but drought still biting
Wool producers were in a good mood as the industry is riding high with high prices for wool, mutton and lamb.
Anna Kelly, a sheep farmer from Deniliquin, in southern NSW, is working at the show for Meat and Livestock Australia and helping educate city folk about rural life.
She’s doing this by using a pair of virtual reality glasses, which offer a 360-degree experience of a sheep farm.
“It’s nice to see how people react and get more of an understanding of where their meat comes from,” Ms Kelly said.
She feels it was an important message to share during a drought.
“Back home on my farm it’s really dry. I’ve had to destock, which is a depressing time,” Ms Kelly said.
“It hurts not seeing your animals running around in the paddock anymore.
“But we have to think it’ll rain someday — we just have to.”
‘Human contact hugely beneficial’
A rural mental health forum is part of this year’s show, where delegates have discussed the drought and figures showing suicide rates in rural Australia were twice that of metropolitan areas.
“It comes down to isolation and we need to address that,” director of the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, David Perkins, said.
Professor Perkins said bringing animals to the show also gave exhibitors a sense of pride.
“The drought means you might only have your show livestock left on your farm; you’ve been working on them for years,” he said.
“Having them at the show gives you something to work towards.”
Show ambassadors also push for drought help
Stephanie Clancy, from Pleasant Hills in southern NSW, who was sashed the 2019 Sydney Royal Showgirl, said the win gave her the opportunity to advocate for people going through the drought.
She said she would use her role to raise awareness of what farmers were going through.
“We want to help farmers as much as we can and drought is something we need push for to get subsidies for farmers,” she said.