Duranillin pastures back from brink

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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The 6mm of rain which fell on the Duranillan property of Sheila and sons John and Doug Rutherford last weekend offered a welcome reprieve for what has been one of the driest seasons the family can remember.

John Rutherford said 2015 had been a stop-start season, with long dry spells punctuated by small trickles of rain which provided much-needed relief.

Even two weeks ago, when the northern and eastern Wheatbelt received abundant soaking rains, the Rutherfords had just 9mm.

"One minute you think it's all over - then we get a bit of rain and we think it could be good. At the moment we are leaning toward good," he said.

"Our pastures have been on the brink of death one or two times, but a small amount of rain has always managed to arrive just in the nick of time."

Mr Rutherford said considering the dry conditions, pastures were now looking "wonderful".

"Our pastures are short, but thick and lush, and still producing some grass despite the dry conditions. That is because we look after our pastures," he said.

"We have cropping paddocks, used only for cropping and pasture paddocks used only for pastures, which protects the seed bank.

"That helps a lot during tough seasons."

The Rutherford family, who run 10,000 Merino breeding ewes across their three properties at Duranillan, Capercup and Beaufort River, allocate 80 per cent of their land to sheep.

About 2000 of these ewes are mated to White Suffolks to produce prime lambs. With the help of full-time employee Murju Maeotsa, they also run 150 Angus breeding cows, the remainder of the operation dedicated to a cropping program that comprises oats, barley and non-GM canola.

Despite the dry conditions they have not been forced to hand-feed, other than for a mob of ewes with lambs that crossed a dry river (normally a boundary when it's running).

An additional challenge for the Rutherfords over recent weeks is their dwindling water supply, caused by the dry conditions, requiring them to sink bores and dig soaks.

Mr Rutherford said crops were looking mixed.

"Some are OK but those planted anywhere near gravel are a bit patchy," he said. "Those planted on the loams are looking all right."

The Rutherfords, who were due to start the 65th annual shearing on their home farm this week, have maintained their conviction with sheep over the years, while watching many of their peers move in favour of cropping.

"It's just instinct. We feel we can do a better job with sheep," he said.

"Our soil types are also more suited to sheep than cropping.

"We never got to the stage where we wanted to sell sheep to go cropping - it just never got that bad - even in the 1990s. Sheep have always paid our bills and we have always enjoyed farming this way."

A reasonable amount of rain was otherwise widely spread across WA's Wheatbelt at the weekend.

In the central Wheatbelt, Narembeen had 5mm, Westonia 13mm and Tammin 8mm.

Further north, Perenjori had 15mm, Northampton 13mm and Mullewa 8mm, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

In the Great Southern, Wickepin received 9mm, Williams 15mm and Narrogin 18mm, over the week to 9am Tuesday.

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