AFTER some of the driest years they can remember, Hunter farmers have become accustomed to watching the horizon and hoping for rain. But after falls around the region that offered most areas a rare soak, many landholders are watching the sky with fresh hope.
Every drop of Merriwa's recorded 105.8 millimetres of rain in February fell since Friday, Bureau of Meteorology data shows. That already exceeds the district's total January rainfall and tops every month back to March 2019. Murrurundi and Singleton also recorded substantial falls.
The soaking has at least left many awash in relief, if not bulging dams and creeks.
Singleton Beef and Land Association president Greg Ball, whose usual 900 head of cattle has dwindled to about 400 in "three years of below average rain", said his property received about 100 millimetres since late last week.
"Amazingly, our creeks and all our gullies are bone dry," Mr Ball said.
"Normally as a rule after you get 100 millimetres you start to get running water, but not this time.
"The ground's like a sponge at the moment."
The water literally slipping through cracks in sun-baked paddocks is a sign of how far a weekend of solid rain falls short of breaking the drought that had many farms nearing the brink.
Blandford farmer Craig Murphy said his property east of Murrurundi had transformed since rain began to tick onto the roof late last week "a bit like music to the ears".
"We've had 60 millimetres over the weekend, but beautiful soaking rain," he said.
"It's big time."
"We were just about at the end physically and mentally, but this is what we needed and myself, you hope it means there's better times ahead.
While the rain was welcome, Mr Murphy said it did not come without a cost.
"On some of our country it has caused some damage," he said. "In country that's bare, some of the rain has caused some erosion.
"It's nothing we can't fix, but we find here we've got some contour country ... where in some places, it's that dry the water's gone down through a crack and blocked the next bank."
Mr Murphy said the falls would likely ease other pressures including hay prices by putting feed on the land, thereby easing demand and boosting supply when the crop matures.
"We've gone from bare paddocks to good green grass in about a week," Mr Murphy said.
"It's a total sense of relief. Before it was a battle to go and do your daily chores. You'd start a ute and the cattle would start bellowing."
Merriwa's Ron Campbell said follow-up rain was crucial, but there was a new sense of optimism in the district as the rains fell in the ideal season for planting winter oats.
"The bell was ringing for a ling time, so if we didn't get rains now or by the end of February, things could have been even more serious," he said. "This does make a difference psychologically. There's now a prospect to make a gain."
Cattle sales would also likely be well attended as brown paddocks were dotted with green blades of juicy grass, Mr Campbell said.
"The demand goes up mainly from the restockers," he said. "If someone has sold all their animals, they are looking to purchase something so they can get an income."
Bandon Grove farmer Suzanne Landers, who runs cattle and bullocks commercially in the Dungog and Gloucester areas, said the rain was enough for her to make a start rebuilding a herd that would be three times its present size in a good year.
"Everyone's in the same predicament now that you have got to re-establish," Ms Landers said. "Where all the cattle is going to come from, I'm not sure."
The trade-off for the recent rain, which she said delivered "about four inches", or roughly 100 millimetres, was some damage at another family's property near the Barrington Tops.
"Dungog, the whole shire got about four inches," Ms Landers said. "I think we are all elated but we have got some country up at Gloucester near Curricabark where there's been floods.
"We got 93 millimetres in about half an hour so there was a flash flood.
"The flood knocked the river fence down that my husband thinks would go back to his father's time, or his grandfather's.
"It cut the strainers in half."
While no drought-breaker, Mr Campbell said there was fresh hope as well as fresh grass sprouting across the upper Hunter.
"It's certainly changed things," he said.