Cattle have stopped breeding, koalas die of thirst: A vet's hellish diary of climate change
26 December, 2019
Bulls cannot breed at Inverell. They are becoming infertile from their testicles overheating. Mares are not falling pregnant, and through the heat, piglets and calves are aborting.
My work as a veterinarian has changed so much. While I would normally test bulls for fertility, or herds of cattle for pregnancy, I no longer do, because the livestock has been sold. A client’s stud stock in Inverell has reduced from 2000 breeders to zero.
I once assisted farmers who have spent their lives developing breeding programs, with historic bloodlines that go back 80 years. These stud farmers are now left with a handful of breeders that they can’t bear to part with, spending thousands keeping them fed, and going broke doing it.
Cattle that sold for thousands are now in the sale yards at $70 a head. Those classed as too skinny for sale are costing the farmer $130 to be destroyed.
They are all gone and it was all for nothing. The paddocks are bare, the dams dry, the grass crispy and brown. The whole region has been completely destocked and is devoid of life.
For 22 years, I have been the vet in this once-thriving town in northern NSW, which, as climate change continues to fuel extreme heat, drought and bushfires, has become hell on Earth.
Here, we are seeing extreme weather events like never before. The other day we had about eight centimetres of rain in 20 minutes. These downpours are like rain bombs. They are so ferocious that a farmer lost all of his fences, and all it did was silt up the dam so he had to use a machine to excavate the mud.
Most farmers in my district have not a blade of grass remaining on their properties. Topsoil has been blown away by the terrible, strong winds this spring and summer. We have experienced the hottest days that I can remember, and right now I can’t even open any windows because my eyes sting and lungs hurt from bushfire smoke.
For days, I have watched as the bushland around us went up like a tinderbox. I just waited for the next day when my clinic would be flooded with evacuated dogs, cats, goats and horses in desperate need of water and food.
The impact of the drought on wildlife is devastating to watch, too. Members of the public are bringing us koalas, sugar gliders, possums, galahs, cockatoos and kangaroos on a daily basis.
The koalas affect me the most. To see these gorgeous, iconic animals dying from thirst is too hard to bear. We save some, but we lose just as many.
The whole town is devastated. My business has halved. But with no horses to breed, no cattle to test and care for, what am I going to do? I have worked day and night to build a future for my family, but who would want to buy our property out here? Who would want to buy a vet clinic in a town where there are no animals to treat because it’s too hot and dry? Where the cattle become infertile from the 40-degree heat. All this on black, baked ground.
I am 53 years old. Can I start again?
Climate change for us is every day, and I am not suffering on the same level as my friends, my clients and the helpless animals I treat. As a veterinarian I am becoming more and more distressed, not just about the state of my town, but the whole world.
Personally, I have had weeks when I just cry. It just bloody hurts me. I also have times when I get really angry and I start to swear, which I have never done in my life.
I also have times when I think about the potential this country has to create a renewable future with clean, green energy, and end our reliance on fossil fuels.
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You only have to look at how resilient our farmers are in the face of devastating, extreme weather conditions to understand that we can make a powerful, meaningful difference to our future.
The government has no idea what it’s like for us. It has no empathy. Its members don't know how much it hurts when they just say yes to another coal mine.
I would invite Scott Morrison to come and see what life in Inverell is like. In case he chooses not to, I'll paint this picture for the country and hope people can start to realise and understand the devastating impact climate change is having. I hope they will take a stand for the people, the places and the animals whose voices are too small for him to hear.