The harrowing reality of raising a young family in one of the worst droughts on record.


Jess Baker is living on hope right now.

She and her husband Joel have a 1800-acre sheep farm just outside of the rural NSW town of Nyngan, an area which, like 99 per cent of the state, is experiencing its worst drought in decades.

Until late June, there hadn’t been significant rain on the Baker’s farm since February 2017. But 44 millimetres of rain was not enough to come close to repairing the damage caused by almost 18 months of drought. Especially not when it hasn’t rained in the weeks since.

“We only bought our farm two years ago. We don’t have a lot of experience behind us. It’s quite daunting to be in a full-blown drought,” Jess tells Mamamia.

The lack of rain has meant the Bakers have been unable to feed their sheep on pasture crops and instead have to buy in feed and water to keep their sheep alive. It’s a costly process – especially when they’re barely receiving an income from the farm. Joel, 27, works a full-time job on another farm to support their two children, three-year-old Lily and nine-month-old Levi, in addition to the work he and Jess do on the farm.

Jess Baker
Joel and Jess Baker with their kids, Lily, 3, and Levi, 9 months. Image: Supplied.

Jess says that what some people may not understand is the amount of time involved in keeping things alive in a drought.

"We're out feeding with our two little kids 'til 9 o clock at night in the dark. If we're not feeding we're filling up our tanks with the water truck and that's another few hours into the night," the 25-year-old says. "Feeding has turned into a nearly seven-day job.

"You're not making any money, but all your time is put into keeping your place going."

This, as much as the financial burden, has taken a toll on the young couple's mental health.

"It has definitely affected our mental health. My husband comes home stressing. We don't have enough time to do the things that we enjoy anymore."


"We can't take our little children to events or playgroup or the mums and bubs groups in town because I'm also dragging the kids around to feed the sheep with me.

"There's no such thing as a holiday or a weekend away at the moment."

Still, as tough as Jess and her family are doing it, she knows there are so many farmers worse off.

Lily helps dad Joel with feeding the sheep. Image: Supplied.

"I do really feel sorry for those people who have to shoot their stock. That would be heartbreaking."

It's a reality for so many farmers who run out of options. And in a drought like this one, in some places the worst since records began, there aren't many options.

Jess explains that if she were to sell her flock, they would struggle to buy them back and continue farming, meaning they'd be giving up the life they had chosen for themselves and their children.

"And no one else in NSW can feed their sheep right now, so who's going to buy them?" she added.

Support welcome, but more could be done

Jess welcomes the NSW government's announcement on Monday that it would double its spending on assistance to farmers from $500,000 to $1 billion, but said the cap at $20,000 per farm for transport subsidies limited the relief it could provide.

She says her family have received the government subsidy for the transporting of feed, but it was barely a "dent" in the debt they owe.

"That [$20,000] is a weekly cost for a lot of farmers. I definitely think they could do more, but to be honest I don't know what it would be."

"If they could make it rain that would answer all our prayers."

And that's just it. There's very little anyone can do, but wait and hope for rain. As Jess puts it, farming is like gambling, it's betting that the rain will come before you can't afford to stay in farming any longer.


"If I knew it was going to be another year before it rained, I'd sell all our sheep tomorrow," she says. "I couldn't imagine trying to do another year of it.

"We're still sitting here hoping that in the next couple of months it's going to rain a lot more."

You can help

If Jess' story has touched you or you'd just like to help support Australian farmers who are struggling right now, you can donate to these charities:

Buy a Bale - Provides bales of hay and other essential items to farmers. Visit their website.

Rural Aid Australia - Supports farmers both financially and emotionally, offering counselling services to struggling rural Australians as well as volunteer and material aid. Visit their website to find out more.

Dresses for the Drought - This initiative from two Melbourne-based sisters is designed to make sure teens in families affected by drought do not miss out on feeling special at their school formal. Anyone can donate their unwanted formal dresses to this cause. Check out Dresses for the Drought on Instagram or Facebook for more information.

If you or anyone you love is experiencing crisis - drought-related or otherwise - there is always help available. You can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.