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Case study: Infrastructure in recovery

Keith Dance with his new steel cattle yards, build during recovery form the 2019-20 fires in Belowra Valley, NSW

Keith and Deb Dance have faced many challenges since fires struck their farm in the Belowra Valley, NSW on New Year’s Eve, 2019. Keith says that accepting help, prioritising and focussing on getting back to the parts of farming that you love have made a big difference to their recovery.

Reflecting on his experience, Keith says, “You have to set your priorities. Our first priority was to get water and feed to the stock. Construct fences to contain them. Then get yards to put them in, so you can maintain them. Get a small number of cows and calves back on the property when you can. Getting back operational is really important. You’ve gotta get back into production as soon as you’re able to and just run with it.”

“It’s always hard to ask for help because we’re all very independent. But you’ve gotta look where you’re going next. Our valley’s a bit isolated and our road is hard to get in, but I had my brother turn up, and a cousin came and fenced for weeks and weeks with us. That helped us initially, and then BlazeAid turned up and helped us secure the boundaries properly. The focus was getting the livestock under control and then building infrastructure.”

A notable change to the farm since the fires are the new steel yards, after the old wooden ones were burnt. “I used basically the same yard footprint and design. We know that design works. So we just pulled the old ones out, put the new steel posts in. I could order the steel, that was here in no time. It went up quickly and cost-wise it wasn’t too bad. Our fencing has changed too, we’re using steel posts, steel end assemblies. We had to prioritise to get some semblance of order back as quickly as possible.”

Almost two years since the fire, prioritising recovery work is an ongoing strategy. “You have to look at different options. What you’ve done in the past doesn’t stand anymore. So look at whatever’s the fastest, basic option to replace what you need. The basic necessities to get it operational, the fine tuning will come later.”

Keith says keeping his breeding cows on the farm has helped the long-term recovery process. “We kept the breeding herd so we could get the numbers back quickly. Two years later we’re basically back where we would like to be.” To Keith, a successful recovery means “getting back into what you love doing: for me that’s breeding cattle, watching calves hit the deck, getting those rewards for all your effort. Don’t give in. You will get through it.”