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Beyond the Bale : Dec - Jan 08
By Liz Kellaway Kirsty Brennan never really intended to be a farmer. When her parents left her to manage the family's grazing property in southern NSW, at the age of 19, she had other plans. "My parents had a property in ueensland during the 1980s and 1990s, so they lived up there most of the time, and my younger brother and I had the job, pretty much, of running this place," she explains, sitting in the farm office at 'Ardersier' near Cookardinia, about 25 kilometres north- west of Holbrook. "I didn't really want it -- I wasn't agriculturally minded and was going to do about 100 other things ... but when I got the responsibility, and started to see the farm as a business, it just grew on me, and I have never looked back really. I am really focused and I love it." Sharing the challenge is Kirsty's husband Jim, a builder by trade who was born on a farm near Holbrook, and their two children Rebecca, 5, and Sarah, 3. "Jim and I work well as a team. We seem to have a good mix ... and we have had really good mentors, people you can learn a lot from," she says. Kirsty says one of the best things she has learnt is to "keep it simple". She says it is an approach that helps keep the focus on the 'big picture'; to determine what is relevant and what is not: "It stops you from just jumping onto a bandwagon." The Brennans farm 1400 hectares of diverse country, joining about 4000 ewes before the drought, and cropping 400ha of grazing wheat, canola and a small area of field peas or lupins. "And yes, we've stuck with Merinos all through," Kirsty adds. "It's what we know and we have come too far now to jump ship. We have done it tough because we stayed in sheep, but we have gone a bit more ewe-dominated. "Right now, we have really cut down for the drought, but we joined 3500 ewes in February, and we have 3000 of last year's weaners and one drop of wethers that are two years old. The aim is to get to 10,000 sheep on our 1000ha of grazing country." Kirsty says that "rightly or wrongly" they have been seeking a finer micron and have got weaners down to about 16 microns and the main flock to about 17.5 microns. But along the way she says they became a bit complacent and stopped watching fleece weights. The consequence is a major project now to maintain this micron range but increase fleece weight. They are buying rams from 'Pastora Merino Stud' at Lockhart, run by Peter Westblade, who is helping to class ewes as part of a drought-driven culling program. "But because we have been caught out before not keeping an eye on the performance of the clip, we will probably do a progeny test as well and see if that helps -- measure everything and set targets," Kirsty says. The couple run big mobs -- 1000 to 2000 sheep -- and they draft tails off regularly: "We set a target for lamb sur vival and try to reduce the losses, so we actually weigh them three times after weaning and that's paying dividends." Helping the Brennans achieve their goals is Wool4Wealth, a NSW program funded by AWI to give sheep producers access to leading advisers and consultants to help them build more profitable enterprises. Producers participate in regular discussion groups on different aspects of managing a sheep enterprise, starting with a basic benchmarking exercise and covering topics such as growing more and better-quality feed, grazing systems, animal health and lamb sur vival, flock fertility and reproductive health, marketing and price risk management. The local group is guided by Holbrook consultant Andrew Cumming, of Cumming Agriculture, who also brings in leading experts as guest speakers on priority topics. "We have had some great speakers. For example, nutrition is something I have learnt heaps about in the past year or so, and the more I have learnt the more there is to know, and that's a really important part of it." Wool4Wealth also provided access to advice and information on coping with drought and bringing a sheep enterprise through in the best possible shape, for faster recovery once the season changes. Even though they have had to cope with drought before, Kirsty says they were still "in denial" coming in to spring last year, hoping like many others that there would be some late rain to push the crops along and produce green feed. "It stopped us from making decisions earlier." At the end of August 2006, when the ground was still dry, they realised it was time to prepare feed budgets and plan for the worst. They changed the focus of their annual planning meeting with a local farm-management consultant and started working on a sell-down program for their flock, and the options for feed if the law of probability won and they did not manage to grow any grain. In the end, the livestock market crashed faster than they could sell. With prices as low as $5 a head they decided to keep 700 wethers, weighing the cost of feed against future costs of buying stock back in. They swapped some of their canola silage to buy pellets for the lambs, and put most of A case study in LEARNING from experience 4FLOCK MANAGEMENT BEYOND THE BALE Southern NSW Merino producer Kirsty Brennan. PHOTO: KELLIE PENFOLD An 'accidental' farmer finds the learning path is best kept as uncluttered as possible Tips for producers in drought affected areas of NSW 1Which sheep to keep Know what livestock you can afford to feed through to the break and get a realistic valuation of all stock in the current market conditions so that you can determine effective selling options. 2Plan for the future Consider the value of maintaining your genetics and animal health status relative to selling and re-buying after the drought as well as the longer-term effects on your pasture base. 3Get a handle on your cost of production Work out what it will cost to feed the core of your flock until the season breaks including feeding costs, overheads, drawings and debt-ser vicing costs. 4Support is available Seek professional advice and involve others in decision-making. Hopeisnotaplan... Source: Holmes Sackett and Associates More information: www.wool.com.au/drought
Oct 07 - Nov 07
Feb - Mar 08 Supplement