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Beyond the Bale : March 2013
32 32 September 2010 BEYOND THE BALE 32 ON-FARM Running 10,000 sheep in Western Australia’s central wheatbelt might be unusual, but Tony York could never be considered an average farmer. While many of his neighbours pulled out fences and sent their last truckload of sheep to market years ago, Tony is committed to maintaining sheep as part of his farming system. The largest sheep producers in the Tammin district, Tony and his brother Simon run 6000 ewes and 4000 lambs. The majority of these sheep are Merinos. The property traditionally receives 325mm of annual rainfall, with 220mm falling in the growing season. In 2012, the farm only received 130mm for the entire growing season, and, according to Tony, this amount of rainfall is fast becoming the norm, rather than the exception. QUALITY PRODUCTION Unlike so many other wheatbelt farming businesses, Tony and Simon don’t consider their sheep as simply a weed management tool. Tony says the key to farming sheep profitability in the lower rainfall areas is to be dedicated to producing a quality product. “If you are going to run livestock, you have to run it as professionally as you can, and that means maximising your income potential. "We have made a choice of trying to keep our stock numbers high, managing them intensely, always making sure they are score 3 or 4, so they don’t lose condition,” Tony said. “I like selling sheep and I like selling wool. You have to like sheep if you run sheep, because there is a lot of management finesse required. Tony says his sheep flock contributes less than a quarter of his gross farm income, but over 40 per cent of his farm profit. “Simply, there are less costs involved with sheep compared with cropping,” Tony said. “We are running a sheep enterprise where we reliably achieve 100 per cent lambing rates, we keep them in good condition so the lambs grow well, and that means we can turn them off quickly. Most of the lambs are sold by seven or eight months of age. We aren’t carrying any hoggets for any length of time and we have a high percentage ewe flock.” CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES While the York farm is one of the largest in the area, of approximately 13,000 hectares plus 3000 hectares of leased land, Tony also freely admits he has one of the largest salt problems in the district as well. Almost 2000 hectares of land on the property are salt affected to some degree and unproductive in terms of his cropping program, which makes his sheep flock such an attractive alternative income source. FAST FACTS l Tony York from Western Australia’s central wheatbelt is committed to maintaining sheep as part of his farming system despite low annual rainfall (<330mm). l He has shown that large, high quality sheep flocks can be run professionally in lower rainfall areas. l Tony says his sheep flock contributes less than a quarter of his gross farm income, but over 40 per cent of his farm profit. l Saltbush not only acts as a supplementary feed source, but also improves wool quality and weight. Tony York from Tammin in Western Australia's central wheatbelt in the newest salt bush trial plot on his property which contains “elite” varieties that have been bred to withstand high saline conditions and be more palatable for livestock. March 2013 BEYOND THE BALE