FARMER Les Jones will this month shoot all 1200 of his starving sheep and bury them in a mass grave on his barren farm in northwestern NSW.
The sheep are living skeletons, so emaciated the Jones family can’t even use them to feed themselves “unless we ate soup every day”.
The cattle are so hungry they are scraping dried moss off rocks with their teeth and chasing stray leaves that blow off trees.
The Sunday Telegraph has been visiting farms throughout the rain-starved state, where many areas are suffering the driest conditions since records began in 1900.
At Goolhi, west of Gunnedah, the Joneses are in an impossible situation. Even if they could find an abattoir wiling to buy their livestock, which is highly unlikely, the sheep are too gaunt to legally put on a truck.
But they’ve run out of money to buy increasingly scarce hay and increasingly expensive grain.
Currently, 10 sheep a day die from starvation on the 670ha property, so the most humane option is to shoot them all.
“We own an old dozer and the husband is finding somewhere on the farm to dig a big hole and push them in,” Les’s wife Laura said.
“We don’t have any choice but to shoot them. We’ve tried our utmost to keep them alive, but how can we?”
Visitors are warned not to accept a cup of tea from Mrs Jones because the remaining 60cm of drinking water in the family’s rainwater tank is infused with the whiff of mosquito larvae and dead mice.
Each night Les, Laura and daughter Lillie take turns to have a bath in the same water, which turns black before it’s emptied.
The farming family rations its bottled water, which is all they have to drink.
All 12 dams on the property are either dry or contain just a few centimetres of brown water, which they’ve had to fence off because sheep were getting stuck and dying in the muddy banks. There isn’t any nutritious pasture left on the property — just red dirt and tufts of razor grass, which the livestock won’t eat because it cuts their mouths.
The drought is taking its toll on Lillie, 15, the couple’s only child, who doesn’t want to leave her home behind but understands her parents have no choice but to sell up.
“I’m going to lose my home one day soon, which upsets me because I love it here,” Lillie said.
“But there’s no feed, no water and when the last dam dries up we won’t have any choice but to leave.”
Date: 22 july 2018