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Beyond the Bale : May 2010
May 2010 BEYOND THE BALE With native pasture "half way up the Landcruiser door", conditions are the best they have been for 20 years, according to Geoff Peters of 'Ballatherie', Hillston, NSW. After a decade defined by dust, having so much feed is not only a welcome change but for the Peters family it adds to what has been a great 2010 to date, having won the largest Merino ewe flock competition in the world: the Peppin Sha w. "Merinos have always been good to us over the years and they are coming to the fore again now. There is nothing as versatile, productive or profitable out here, I mean what else is going to cut you up to eight kilograms of 22 micron wool and produce a big lamb over 12 months out here?" Geoff asks. Together with his wife Dianne and sons Mark and Andrew, the Peters run two properties spanning some 30,000 hectares of pastoral country, running a flock of 5800 Poll Merino ewes. In awarding the top prize to the Peters, Peppin Shaw judges Rob Ashby, of 'Old Ashrose', South Australia, and Will Roberts, of 'Victoria Downs', Queensland, commented on how the Peters flock not only impressed with lambing percentages and production but was generally "well bred to suit their country ... and an excellent group of poll sires, whose quality is reflected in the flock". Quite the accolade, given the Peters breed their own Poll Merino rams. While recent seasons have been difficult at best, Geoff says they have helped their management adapt to be all but self- sufficient when it comes to feed. Being opportunistic with production and storage 26 WOOL PRODUCTION Merinos reward Peppin Shaw winners of feed and closely monitoring the state of the country is essential. When standing feed gets tight, stock are taken off country and placed in droughtlots. In recent years up to 3000 sheep and 400 head of cattle have been taken off pasture, not only keeping stock in good condition but giving the country a valuable spell. Being in tune with the natural cycles of the country and always keeping stock in good condition has paid off. "Our surplus sheep sales have been a financial mainstay for us and having them in good condition means they are in good demand. To do this we make the most of rain when it falls, producing as much as we can when we can. We grow cereals, maize and lucerne on flood and under sprinkler irrigation, also pasture with new varieties of ryegrass and medics, and make hay and silage and, as crazy as it sounds, when things dry out a little we will sow oats this year," Geoff adds. Running only Merinos, this year the Peters aim to achieve 100 per cent lambs at weaning with older ewes expected to wean 120 per cent lambs and younger ewes at 80 to 90 per cent. Everything is done to maximise lambs on the ground. Ewes are at condition score three at joining, with maize used as a supplement to assist their condition and lupins for rams. Selenium and B12 vaccinations for both rams and ewes prior to joining helped have animals primed. Tough seasons have also focused attention on water points; minimising the distance travelled by ewes and lambs for water has minimised losses. Late- lambing ewes are grouped and looked after accordingly. The result being wether lambs sold as suckers when possible, with the balance kept, shorn and sold, generally in spring. Naturally, the best young ewes are kept as the future breeders and it is these ewes that are now a very valuable commodity across the country as people look to increase their Merino numbers. "I think for the Merino industry, the best is yet to come. There is a lot to look forward to and wool is a big part of that optimism," Geoff adds. FAST FACTS l A lift in morale is being seen at Merino ewe competitions across the country. l The winners of this year's Peppin Shaw competition, the Peters from 'Ballatherie', near Hillston, NSW, say there is nothing as versatile, productive or profitable as Merinos. l While market and seasonal conditions have improved for the Merino industry, the Peters think that the best is yet to come. Geoff and Andrew Peters, 'Ballatherie', Hillston, with their winning Yandembah flock. PHOTO: CARA JEFFERY, THE LAND