Diversity the lynchpin at Hamelin Pool

03 Dec, 1999 04:00 AM

THE country at Hamelin Pool station, 100 kilometres east of Denham, is both idyllic and harsh. On the edge of the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, the 200,000-hectare lease backs on to the spectacular scenery that includes the ancient stromatalites, one of the world's oldest living organic forms. But it also has just a 220-millimetre average annual rainfall and has experienced more than its fair share of drought in recent years, the most recent being from 1992 to 1996. About 90 per cent of the annual rainfall comes from winter rain, as Hamelin Pool seems to miss out on most cyclonic rain, which falls further north. Like most producers in the region, the Wake family who farm it, are sheep and wool producers, who also earn a significant portion of their income from harvesting feral goats. But, in recent years, Brian Wake and his family have been seeking to insulate their operation by incorporating complementary businesses into the overall station operation. These include capitalising on their unique location to establish a tourism accommodation business, using the local artesian bore to move into aquaculture and assessing the potential of breeding alternative sheep breeds such as Damara. "Each business within the business is an entity unto its own and it is important to get them to a size where they can stand alone," Mr Wake said. "Our focus is to expand internally, while using the existing infrastructure." If all goes to plan over time, Mr Wake eventually plans to manage a network of workers on the property who are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the various businesses. The tourism development is well under way, with a feasibility study completed on converting a 1939 character shearers quarters into backpackers accommodation and building a few self-contained units. The Wakes hope the operation will be up and running by the start of the tourism season in March-April. Aquaculture is another natural enterprise for Hamelin Pool, which has three artesian bores, of which one, near the homestead, can produce 450,000 litres of water a day. Mr Wake is the chairman of the Gascoyne Inland Aquaculture Group and participated in a barramundi trial a few years ago, where fingerlings were grown out in specially designed aquaculture tanks. "It is really exciting, because we have all this warm water and an endless supply of land and we know we can produce something with it," he said. Mr Wake said the trial confirmed that, although growing out barramundi fingerings proved uneconomic, it could be done and there were opportunities for growing other fish. "It was like milking cows, they needed to be fed in the morning and at night and the tanks cleaned every day," he said. "The labour component was high, so the rewards need to be good, but we have to get the know-how." The Group now plans to undertake a trial growing aquarium fish next year. Despite their diversification ambitions, the Wakes remain committed sheep producers. At the moment, they are flat out shearing their flock, estimated to be about 18,000 head. The Wakes have an unusual set-up where they have about 20 trap yards at every water point, which enables them to muster their sheep through laneways, while at the same time trap the goats in behind them. This year, Mr Wake expects to wean 7000 lambs at shearing. The 3500 ewe lambs will be kept for breeding stock, about 500 ram lambs will be kept in a feedlot for about 10 days and another 1500 will be agisted on lupin stubbles for the live export market, while the remaining 2000 ram lambs will be kept for wethers. Unlike many sheep stations that have reduced their flock to a ewe nucleus in recent years, Mr Wake believes the wethers are an important part of their yearly income. "If you are going to be a serious woolgrower, you need to grow wethers that are easy maintenance and they do well at Hamelin Pool because of our reliable winter rainfall," he said. The Wakes have spent the past few years fining up their wool clip, which has been reduced from 24 microns to 22, a measurement that Mr wake believes could go even finer. Just before shearing started, the goats were mustered and 1600 sold off. Alongside the harvesting program, the Wakes have also developed a domesticated goat operation by electrifying 120km of fencing. "Where ever we build a new fence, we make it with the ability to electrify and now we are starting to bring them together and have made three paddocks," Mr Wake said. In these paddocks are 800 breeding nannies and young bucks. The paddocks are culled throughout the year, taking out the old nannies and the older bucks. The Wakes also have nine total grazing management trap yards, that have been integrated into the operation to improve the overall management and control of the stock, which is important to Mr Wake. "My overall goal is to have control over all our stock, whether they be sheep, goats or anything else," he said. "Planning is now underway to do another major block and put about 20 per cent of the place under control for goats, where we can run sheep as well." Mr Wake is also considering the possibility of infusing some Boer genetics into the domestic goat flock. "I think they need to have a Boer infusion to get to a marketable size at an earlier stage," he said. Another business under consideration is growing Damara, which Mr Wake believes are ideally suited to the country. But he is watching the market for F1s over the summer, before making his mind up about whether to proceed. Mr Wake is right behind the moves in the Gascoyne to establish a producers co-operative to market goats and other small animals. "We need a strong co-operative to co-ordinate people to produce a certain number of animals to a certain quality and price," he said. "It is an investment to get better returns than just sending goats to an abattoir and taking the price on the day."


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