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Beyond the Bale : March 2014
27 March 2014 BEYOND THE BALE ON-FARM David Ferrier; BCG acting chair John Ferrier; BCG CEO Caroline Welsh; BCG Livestock Co-ordinator Dannielle McMillan; BCG agronomist Harm van Rees. development was incremental. "A lot of the infrastructure needed for sheep such as fencing, yards and sheds has been allowed to run down and presents a significant challenge," she said. "Younger farmers who have never run sheep are still reluctant to move towards livestock as it requires a big commitment and a change of thinking and management but repeated dry finishes are making people think twice." Acting BCG CEO Caroline Welsh said there was a great opportunity to cross- fertilise ideas from one industry to another. "Croppers have demonstrated a great capacity to adopt new technology with air seeding and satellite mapping just two obvious examples," she said. "For these farmers to bring sheep back into 400ha paddocks may require the advent of virtual fences and satellite management which are just aren't there yet but it doesn't take too much imagination to see it could happen." SHEEP PUT SECURITY INTO THE NO-TILL TILL The no-till revolution that began in the 1980s saw sheep leave cropping properties as they allegedly caused compaction, but don't tell BCG acting chair John Ferrier. A lover of big framed Riverina-type Merinos, there was never a chance John's flock was leaving the gentle rolling plains his family has farmed for well over a century 25km north of Birchip. "There is no way the sheep are compacting this soil, it's a loamy clay and as far as I'm concerned having sheep and cropping go hand in hand from both a production and financial perspective," he said. "From cleaning up stubbles and summer weeds to delivering a fleece and a lamb every year I enjoy having sheep and thankfully so does my son David." In recent years the livestock operation has been enhanced by the advent of the Wimmera-Mallee pipeline, bringing permanent high quality water to an often parched landscape. "The pipeline has been truly remarkable. We used to get one flow of water in summer to fill dams using a channel system that was highly inefficient. To have pressurised water to troughs from hundreds of kilometres away is an engineering triumph and it's allowed us to run sheep more easily and develop wetland areas for conservation." With drought years in 2002, 2004 and 2006 wiping out large portions of cropping incomes across the Mallee it was sheep that offered precious income to those that kept the faith. "I'm not saying they're a goldmine by any means but having sheep has been very good to us over many years. Yes, they have to fit into the cropping program. Sheep do involve more work than cropping but anything worthwhile requires work." As an example of the next generation of Ferriers that now run the property, John's son David may not share the same level of passion for Merinos as his father but certainly wants them to stay. "There is a definite place for sheep here. It isn't easy work especially during the summer when water points need checking and so on but sheep help manage the risk, without doubt and you know you will always David Ferrier with a trough that is permanently filled with high quality water transported by the Wimmera-Mallee pressurised pipeline. A remnant of an original dingo fence from the 1880s running from South Australia to Victoria. There hasn't been a dingo seen in the area in many decades which shows that it has been possible to push them back in the past. get a wool clip and you can't always say that for a crop, we know that all too well." The Wimmera-Mallee pipeline may not have led to a rush to get back into sheep in the area but it has led to a lot of farmers developing opportunity feedlots as an add-on business, according to John. "The benefit of the feedlot is being able to work out your profit margin so easily. You know the buy-in price, the opportunity cost of the grain and you can lock in a price to work towards so it presents a good opportunity." More information: www.bcg.org.au