Family finds diversity is the key to success

31 Aug, 2005 08:45 PM

DIVERSITY has been the key to success on the Hunt family's Marchagee properties for the past 56 years.

With sheep, cattle, tagasaste and four types of crops, there is not much the Hunts have not done.

Purchased in 1949 by Hal Hunt, Yorkdale originally consisted of 365ha of cleared land and ran 500 Merinos.

Over the years this ballooned out to encompass five adjoining properties to total 7961ha and running up to 10,000 Merinos cutting 250 bales of wool.

The five properties were divided into 61 paddocks, with the original central property, Yorkdale, comprising one-third of the entire holding.

Spanning the 6111ha arable land was 969ha pasture, 928ha fallow, 2583ha wheat, 1371ha lupins, 170ha canola and 90ha oats as well as a 60ha tagasaste paddock.

On the livestock front the Hunts ran 286 Red Poll cattle and 4450 self-replacing Merino flock with 2000 lambs.

Ian Hunt and his son Clinton have been the main drivers behind the business, and with the help of Ian's wife Helen, his retired father Hal, and farm worker Dave McClelland, it has been a busy operation.

Management has been split, with Ian taking care of the livestock side of things, Clinton overseeing the cropping and Helen doing much of the bookwork.

All in all it meant their work was well and truly cut out for them.

Ian said the only limitation in advancing further was a big shortage of labour.

He said it was an increasingly serious problem in the area with a significant impact on potential productivity.

"We have good sources of water and everything available for a more intensive management system, but the only drawback is we can't find labour," Ian said.

He said with the resources available a good balance had been struck.

"Though we are involved in a few areas of farming, we don't really go in and out of these systems because you need stability to manage the operation effectively," Ian said.

"We are happy with what we are doing now, and though it depends somewhat on seasons, we feel we have the ratios about right."

With wheat the main profit driver for the Hunts, they have found it has been the most reliable source of income, regardless of seasonal conditions.

"Even though the yields vary, the prices change accordingly, so when everyone gets a poor season the price goes up because there is more demand," Clinton said.

Crops are placed on a rotation system, with used paddocks spray topped and sown with clover and cereal rye the next year.

When there was an indication of capeweed returning to the pasture, it would once again be put into crop.

Because the area was susceptible to soil acidity, the Hunts employed a soil consultant, which Clinton said had been a big advantage.

"It has helped us combat the problem and put systems in place to make sure the soil was looked after and managed well," Clinton said.

A tagasaste paddock was sown on sandy areas to feed the cattle and poorer paddocks were fenced off for rehabilitation.

The Hunts took up claying susceptible areas in the paddocks and found it made a big difference in eliminating previous poor sections of crops.

The cropping system was working so well that the Hunts made the decision to downsize the sheep operation in 1999 - halving the 10,000-strong flock of Merinos because of poor seasons, the need for soil conservation and a lack of hands on deck.

"We found that it was too much to handle without more labour and though it's still a big part of our operation we need to be able to manage it well," Ian said.

But he said the livestock operation helped complement the entire enterprise and it was well suited to the area.

"The sheep and cattle are relatively low maintenance and adapt very well to these pastoral conditions," Ian said.

"We have an effective livestock rotation system to manage weeds and resistant rye grass, which reduces our need for chemicals."

The property produced 137 bales of wool this year from its main shearing in August, with the hoggets averaging 19 micron and an overall micron average of 21 to 22.

Wethers were sold to the export market, with 781 wethers sold for the shipping trade this year.

A ewe hogget culling program, in which one-third of the ewes were culled each year, was also carried out to ensure the base herd maintained good quality wool, meat and breeding attributes.

In addition, new genetics had been recently infused into the Collinsville-based flock.

"We are trying to breed for a bigger frame to maximise meat income and we are hoping these genetics will bring that trait about," Ian said.

The lambing percentages also look to have benefited, with an excellent 95pc lambing this year.

Ewes were joined on white lupin stubble and wheat stubble, with lambing taking place in sheltered, bushy paddocks to ensure a good lamb survival rate.

An irrigation system was on the cards for the future, with Clinton looking to explore the possibility of yet another venture in the Hunts' wide selection of enterprises.

"We have a lot of freshwater soaks on one of the properties, as it is relatively high above sea level," Clinton said.

"It looks like there is a lot of potential there and I'll be investigating that further down the track."



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