Fly-in farmer opts for easy care sheep

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Five and half years ago Gary Simmons had little knowledge about farming, but that didn’t deter him from buying a property in Pingaring and running shedding sheep.

At the same time, he was working an equal roster fly-in, fly-out for an oil company in the Timor Sea and his learning curve was enormous — from nutrition to fencing, machinery and maintenance.

But the avid reader, who said the internet had been invaluable, wasn’t going to let a lack of experience stand in his way.

The idea to run shedding sheep came from a friend working offshore who saw a program on Damaras.

“My thought was if you can run them on stations and lions don’t eat them in South Africa, I should be able to work away and still run the farm,” Gary said.

He said the first step was to find a property that could carry at least 500 ewes, had reasonable fencing, infrastructure and a good water supply.

“I wanted Dorpers originally because I could sell them on the Australian market, but started with Damaras because they looked hardier and had less of a reputation as fencers,” he said.

Damaras were a good introduction to sheep farming for Gary before turning his breeding focus to Dorpers.

He also had to find out for himself what machinery was needed after initially thinking he wouldn’t require any.

“The first thing I brought was a marking cradle and since then I’ve brought lick feeders, troughs, tanks and a header two weeks ago,” he said.

Before these purchases Gary used innovative ways of feeding out hay and grain using a car trailer.

When he first started farming at Pingaring, it was a bold move and many locals questioned his sanity.

Five years on, now he is part of the community and working with his neighbours, sharing infrastructure such as his shearing shed and super shed in exchange for agistment.

Having no prior knowledge of farming has also been a blessing in disguise, says Gary.

He was able to talk to other farmers in the area and research heavily before putting in place systems that would work best for him so the farm would be self-sufficient when he was away.

Electric fencing has been used on the perimeter and for most internal fence lines, sheep dogs are not used and weeds are seen as a valuable stock feed source.

“I came up with the idea of variable feeds of digestibility so the sheep can eat the quality hay first, then the lower quality and then straw,” he said. “Lick feeders have also been stunningly good to me.”

Confinement feeding has been incorporated in summer to rest paddocks.

Gary now runs 1000 breeding ewes split into three mobs for block mating and plans to increase ewe numbers once pastures are better established.

Ewes are pregnancy scanned and any dry sheep are put into the next mob for mating or sold with the aim of quickly breeding up quality stock.

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