Bluegum buy reaps rewards

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Kojonup’s Griff and Tracey Chomley, with Annie, 14, and Jackson, 19, and some of their Border Leicester rams.
Camera IconKojonup’s Griff and Tracey Chomley, with Annie, 14, and Jackson, 19, and some of their Border Leicester rams. Credit: Geoff Gare

Nearly five years spent accumulating and reclaiming valuable farming land from the bluegum plantation industry is beginning to pay dividends for Griff and Tracey Chomley.

The Kojonup producers were named WA Meat Marketing Co-operation’s producers of the month in December.

In 2005, the Chomleys opened their own Border Leicester stud, Willow Springs.

They have doubled their ewe flock to 5000 during the past five years.

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Their winning draft, 111 wether lambs, was sourced from Merino ewes purchased from Hyfield and sired by their own Willow Springs rams.

The stock were weaned three weeks before delivery.

The lambs were processed at Katanning on December 6 and averaged 20.78kg for a return of $130.92 per head.

An impressive 97.3 percent of the lambs met WAMMCO’s “sweet spot” criteria.

The winning draft was smaller and lighter than others previously sent to WAMMCO by the Chomleys late last season after what Mr Chomley said was a “magnificent” finish.

“It was our assessment that the Border Leicester was probably underrated in WA, despite its fertility, growth, sale and wool value, and its easy-care attributes,” he said.

“There was also the danger of diminishing choice for ram buyers of the breed despite continuing popularity in the Eastern States.”

The couple purchased their base of 20 Border Leicester ewes and a ram in 2005 from Horsham breeder Jane Shannon. They used embryo transfers for the following two years to build their new stud.

These days, Willow Springs produces about 70 rams each year, 40 for in-house commercial breeding, and the remaining 30 for mainly local ram buyers.

The Chomleys have also enjoyed good returns from their wool, with more than $11 per kg paid recently for a line of first cross, Merino-Border Leicester wool.

Mr Chomley said he had recently returned to Geoff Sandilands’ Billandri Merino stud at Kendenup as a source of rams for his Merino flock.

After growing up on the family property at Orchid Valley, Mr Chomley watched the bluegum industry engulf much of the local area. The couple started by buying a small homestead block and leasing local farmland.

In 2014, they began purchasing former bluegum properties as they came up — accepting the significant liability of re-clearing this land to return it to farming.

Mr Chomley said he and his wife were concerned that corporate owners continued to plant bluegum and pine trees on prime land.

The Chomleys support the need for a formal review of future land use in areas of prime farmland, due to value of WA’s grain, lamb and wool production.

Mr Chomley believed predictions for global lamb supply alone highlighted the need to prioritise agricultural production from WA’s prime farmland areas.

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