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Beyond the Bale : December 2018
Western Queensland grazier Ben Banks has long known the value of a Merino ewe. So much so, that even throughout the past 20 years of unpredictable and extreme weather patterns of northern Australia, Ben and his family have done everything within their power to hold onto their core breeding ewes. If holding on to their Merino ewes meant agisting them to far flung areas of other states, or installing 75km of dog-proof fence using their own funds, the Banks family did it. They have strived to continuously breed Merino ewes on their 40,500 hectare Blackall property since the 1940s, representing precisely the type of Merino operation required to maintain and boost Australia’s ewe flock, which is the primary focus of the Australian Association of Stud Merino Breeder’s (AASMB) ‘Breed More Merino Ewes’ campaign, supported by AWI. The campaign aims to highlight the exceptional profitability and performance of the Merino across three key areas – best natural fibre, great tasting meat and the most profitable breed – to encourage producers to increase their ewe numbers. It is those three specific components of wool, meat and dual-purpose profit that Ben Banks says makes his Merino operation both challenging and extremely rewarding. “I used to want to be a cattle man, but Merino sheep are a bigger challenge, in the best kind of way,” Ben said. “With both cattle and sheep, you’re looking to breed animals with great constitution and the conformation to survive in our environment, but Merinos have that added benefit of breeding good wool too. “We are always looking for ways to expand our Merino operation and grow our numbers, but seasonally it’s not been as consistent as we would like. “The seasons over the past 20 years have been horrific. We’ve experienced the three driest years on record, as well as the wettest year on record, and such extremes are exasperating. “But despite that, we have managed to hang onto our core breeding ewes one way or another.” MERINOS RUN IN THE FAMILY The Banks family remain a true family operation, with Ben, wife Oona and their two children Zara and Wally, farming together with Ben’s parents Jack and Rhonda, in addition to his sister Megan and husband Dominic Mohr, and their one-year-old daughter Ella. There are four different properties grazed as one by the Banks clan, spanning 40,500 hectares of prime sheep breeding country near Blackall, Western Queensland, with the potential to run more than 20,000 Merino sheep fully stocked. Average annual rainfall is 430mm. At their height in 2013, the Banks’ had shorn 22,500 sheep and ran 3,000 head of branded cattle, but less than two years later, severe drought had forced every single animal off the place by early 2015. “We saved as many breeding ewes as we could, about 5,000 of them, and sent them all around Australia on agistment just so we could hold onto our own genetics,” Ben said. “The following year we leased a property at Inverell, NSW, and have been sending our surplus sheep there over the past two tough years. “We rely on summer rain up here and this year were staring down the barrel of our sixth failed summer in a row, so we sold all of our Inverell stock. “Nine days later, we had 127mm of rainfall, followed by another 50mm a fortnight later. “We don’t need a lot of rain up here, it just needs to be timed well.” Those two saving grace rain events meant the Banks’ remaining 14,000 Merinos, including 6,000 scanned breeding ewes, 2,000 wethers and dry or maiden ewes, could stay right where they were, with plenty of grass on offer. MERINOS A PROFITABLE ENTERPRISE Based on current sheep values and wool prices, Ben estimates their Merino ewes generate $20 profit per ewe, and $30 profit per hectare for their business. As a direct result of these favourable prices, profitability and timely rain, Ben said they purchased another 2,500 Merino breeders from NSW earlier this year, where the current dry season presented the Banks family with the opportunity to purchase large lines of quality sheep. If the seasons continue to be favourable in Ben’s home patch, he hopes to get back to their full ewe breeding capacity by 2020. 44 ON FARM BANKING ON MERINOS Queensland woolgrower Ben Banks from Blackall – with his two children, Wally and Zara –believes Merinos are perfectly suited to their country and environment.
In the Shops - March 2019