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Family rebuilds sheep enterprise

Jo FullwoodCountryman
Elizabeth and David Partridge, their son Michaeal Partridge his children Oaklee and Harrison at their Brunswick property.
Camera IconElizabeth and David Partridge, their son Michaeal Partridge his children Oaklee and Harrison at their Brunswick property. Credit: Danella Bevis/Countryman

With the future of the bluegum plantations at Frankland River in limbo, local farmer Robin Higgins remains confident that lamb, beef and grain will continue to offer an attractive investment alternative in the fertile, high-rainfall area.

When the Higgins family won WAMMCO's Producer of the Month title in November 2011, there was talk of failed plantation areas reverting to farming.

"But trees planted in 1999-2000 remain uncut, despite being past maturity, and we are none the wiser as to the intentions of the current owners," Mr Higgins said.

The family reduced its prime lamb matings from 1200 to 900 ewes after a tough marketing season in 2012, but has gradually started to increase numbers again.

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"We contacted WAMMCO as usual in August 2012 to book our lambs for November, but were surprised to hear that there would be no vacancies until January 2013," Mr Higgins said.

"That experience, combined with disappointing prices, caused us to cut our prime lamb ewe numbers in favour of more canola."

Bookings were starting to fill rapidly when Mr Higgins contacted WAMMCO in July last year to arrange delivery of his lambs for November. There was a major difference from the previous year in that there was ample feed from an excellent season.

His draft of 438 lambs averaged 22.09kg when processed at Katanning on November 19, with an average return of $91.89 and individual carcases fetching up to $112.49, leading Mr Higgins to become WAMMCO's Producer of the Month once more.

Flock structures have also been amended as the family rebuilds its sheep enterprise, moving prime lamb production further away from Merino to first-cross ewes.

Of the 900 ewes mated to Texel sires, one-third are Border Leicester/Merino cross and the balance are Dohne/Merino cross and Merino ewes, with a further 300 ewes mated to Border Leicester rams.

A Merino flock of 1200 ewes, mated to Strathaddon rams, generates an impressive wool clip each year, while a herd of Angus cattle and crops of canola and barley also contribute to the family enterprise.

A Poll Dorset ram purchased from Pine Avenue, Kojonup, three years ago is producing good rams from their Bangalup stud Texel ewes and these are being mated to Merino ewes for prime lambs.

"We drop our prime lambs in June/July with the aim of selling them straight off their mothers in early November. As killing space tightens, I see merit in working more closely with WAMMCO to organise our bookings well in advance, rather than waiting for the lambs to reach delivery weights," Mr Higgins said.

The family received a relatively small WAMMCO rebate from the 2012-13 trading result, because they had to use a range of processors to quit their lambs last year.

While Mr Higgins would like to see continuing improvement in lamb prices, he was pleased the market had stabilised with a steady upward trend.

"There is still a reasonable return for the producer at current prices and a further fall in the Australian dollar would help our exports," he said.

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