WITH the winter months closing in, many people are reaching for their wool clothing and bedding to keep them warm.
In a similar fashion, Cuballing farmers Chad and Sarah Hawksley reached for Merino rams at least year's joining after deciding it was the right time to shift their focus back to wool and aim to cut a heavier fleece from their F2-F4 Prime SAMM flock.
It's an unusual move in the current market, where the general trend has been to focus on improving meat characteristics rather than wool, but it was the right move for the Hawksley family.
After spending the past eight years heading down the Prime SAMM path and chasing the meat market, Chad said they were slowly losing the high volume of wool they had previously cut and were struggling to justify the shearing cost.
"Last year after stacking 40 less bales onto the truck, we realised we needed to do something," Chad said.
"Our wool cut had dropped so significantly that we couldn't really cover the cost of shearing them.
"For a while there I was probably treating wool as a by-product and as long as it was covering its costs it was a handy thing to have.
"But now we are cutting a lot less wool so we decided to spend the next few years crossing back to Merinos."
They have started slowly, joining 1200 of their F4 Prime SAMM maiden ewes to Merino rams this year, with the remaining 2400 ewes still joined to Prime SAMM rams.
The success of the Merino cross will depend on the quality of progeny that is due to drop in June and July, and if it's deemed to be effective, the Hawksleys will spend the next few years continuing to pack Merino power into their flock and improve their wool clip.
Shearing is still carried out in the family's traditional month of late August for the main flock, with the older ewes shorn a month earlier and lambs a month later.
Chad said they continue to aim for an average of 21 micron, as he couldn't seem any additional benefits from moving to a finer-fleeced flock.
While their focus has shifted to producing wool, Chad and Sarah initially started using Prime SAMMs to increase their lambing percentage and produce a heavier, well-rounded lamb that could be turned off quickly.
Their lambing percentage has just started to tip over the 100 per cent mark and was an obvious indication of the Prime SAMM breed's excellent fertility and mothering ability the Hawksleys were chasing.
"The Prime SAMMs are an easy-care sheep, they hold their condition longer than a Merino," Chad said.
"We've managed to get the fertility right up there, but it has come at the expense of our wool cut.
"I'm looking forward to seeing what the lambs from the maiden ewes look like and if we should go heavier with the Merinos next year."
He said they were still experimenting with the best time to mate the rams and ewes and this season they attempted a late December joining, leaving both the Merino and Prime SAMM rams in for eight weeks.
That way, they are able to leave heavily pregnant ewes on pastures for as long as possible and ideally reduce the amount of time spent feeding.
Once the lambs arrive and reach between 32-36 kilograms, the wethers are usually sent into an on-property feedlot with the capacity to hold up to 500 head and fed finishing pellets.
Since they started producing crossbred lambs, one of the most attractive benefits has been the wide variety of markets that has opened up to the Hawksleys, with the majority of their lambs being sold to processors or export markets in September and October.
By using pellets and a feedlot system that only ever peaks at 350-400 lambs at a time, Chad said he was able to minimise feed wastage and the number of shy feeders in the system.
They are also running their entire flock at a much lower stocking rate than normal and will continue to assess whether or not they should increase their numbers in the future.
"We only run our sheep at a certain level to ensure we maintain an easy-care system," Chad said.
"We could probably increase our stocking rate and in a classroom it always looks easy to run more DSE (dry sheep equivalent), but in a bad year it can come unstuck very quickly.
"We have definitely increased our cropping in recent times but sheep are still such an important aspect of our farm.
"I get annoyed when people undervalue sheep when they are great weed control and lower our exposure to risk.
"I'd prefer to just do what I know and do it well."