GOOMALLING wool grower Des Haywood is a humble bloke, but he’s the first to declare sheep have got him to where he is today.
Des didn’t inherit an established farming enterprise, instead he has worked hard to build his land holdings in the Goomalling district over the past 60 years, saying he always knew sheep had to play a role in whatever farming business he was going to be running.
“I just love my sheep,” Des said.
“A lot of people in our area have gone out of sheep over the years but I’m certainly glad I’ve stuck with it.”
With wool recently hitting the 2000c/kg mark, sticking with the Merino breed is paying off for Des.
“Of course it’s fantastic to be seeing that sort of money for wool at the moment,” he said.
“I really am glad, not just for myself, but for all sheep farmers out there who held out through the tough times in the wool industry.
“For me, Merinos have got me to where I am today and that’s why I like them so much, even though we’re going through a tough season at the moment.”
Working with his flock of 1150 Merino ewes is what Des enjoys, but in particular he is passionate about wool.
“I’ve had sheep the entire time I’ve been farming and I studied to get my wool stencil when I was still building the farming business, so after years of working so closely with Merinos I guess that’s where the passion for wool comes from,” he said.
For Des, the ideal Merino is a nicely covered animal with enough skin to cut that extra bit of wool off.
“Everyone has their own way of doing things and a lot of people like the plain-bodied style of Merino but I personally like a couple of little folds on the neck to carry that bit more wool,” he said.
“I like a bit of skin because the more follicles, the more wool you grow.”
These days his ewes cut about 7kg of wool which Des said with the current wool prices was pretty exciting.
When it comes to the sort of wool he wants to grow, comfort factor is the first thing that comes to mind.
“I want my wool to be at 100 per cent comfort factor or very near it,” he said.
“If it’s going to be near your skin you want it to be soft don’t you?
“And I think our stud breeders here in WA have done very well in that area – there’s a lot of beautiful wool in WA.”
Des is happy sitting at the 19-20 micron mark, which he said suited the conditions in the Goomalling district.
“Up in this country where it’s a little bit harsher in the summer time, you need a sheep that can handle the conditions and grow a bit of wool too,” he said.
Come ram buying time, Des said he purchased what he liked the look of each year and was willing to invest in high quality animals.
“But only horns,” he said.
“Polls are good and there’s nothing wrong with them, I just like the masculinity I see in the horned rams.”
The horned Merinos selected at ram buying time each year go to work within the ewe flock which is carefully selected at classing in mid-July.
“When we class the ewes we cull for frame and wool, then we shear,” Des said.
“I’m being very strict about that frame and wool criteria at the moment because I want to get rid of half the young sheep at classing time.
“Right now I’ve got a few more breeding ewes than I need because I like to operate conservatively and not push the feed so I focus on quality instead.
“If we’re really strict at classing time, then the flock continues to move towards the quality of wool to where I want it to be.”
For the ewes that make the cut to stay in the flock, looking after them properly is crucial for Des.
“I keep a close eye on them in small mobs and I see no point in letting them drop in condition score,” he said.
“I’ve been feeding my sheep for months now which sounds like it’s the story across the State.
“And I’ll have to continue it for a while yet because even if it rains, it’ll be a while before the pastures are ready to be used.”
Des has just finished lambing and said the results were down on recent years.
“Usually we sit around the 100pc lambing mark but this year we lost quite a few,” he said.
“We had a lot of twins and the dry season wasn’t ideal so I think that has had an impact.”
But good year or bad, Des’s policy on carefully looking after his ewes won’t change.
“If you have sheep you’ve got to do your best to look after them, any farmer will tell you that,” he said.
“I feed them properly, I never push them around, I don’t have dogs, I just like to keep it simple.
“Sunday was the first day I haven’t fed, but I went out again on Monday,” he said.
“I’m watching the feed closely – it’s starting to grow, we just need a bit more rain to push it along.
“As farmers all around the district have been closely watching those skies to turn into a blanket of rain across their paddocks, there’s nothing more we can all do, other than wish and wait.
“But last year we were in the same predicament and we got through, so that’s a good sign.”
As Farm Weekly drove away from Goomalling on Monday the sky was darkening and the front was coming, so hopefully that wish for rain came true for producers across the area.