Sticking firmly to the sheep path

07 Jun, 2015 02:00 AM
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Williams farmer Glen Cowcher comes from a long line of sheep producers and continues that legacy with his Merino and F1 Prime SAMM-Merino operation run with his brothers Denis and Warren.
They get up and going a bit faster and it's handy to have the option.
Williams farmer Glen Cowcher comes from a long line of sheep producers and continues that legacy with his Merino and F1 Prime SAMM-Merino operation run with his brothers Denis and Warren.

FROM the very early days of settlement to the present day, the town of Williams has been synonymous with sheep.

It has also been associated with certain surnames and the Cowcher clan is one such family, farming in the Williams area over a number of decades and generations.

Considering this, it's no surprise that Max Cowcher and his three sons Glen, Denis and Warren are regularly found working away in the paddocks or sheep yards of their Williams and Quindanning properties on any given day.

Max has now eased into semi-retirement, allowing Glen and Denis to facilitate the Williams side of the family's operation and Warren to farm the nearby Quindanning property.

It is the quintessential family farming business, with grandparents, sons, wives and children all pitching in and contributing to the farm, which is particularly handy considering they have more than 15,000 sheep to look after.

Working with a Merino base of 6500 Merino ewes, the Cowchers also run 1600 F1 Prime SAMM ewes which are used for prime lamb production after they are joined to British breed rams.

Their breeding program begins in December when the majority of the Merino ewes are joined with Merino rams for five weeks, which are then backed up for another five weeks with White Suffolk rams.

At the same time, a smaller portion of the Merino ewes are mated to Prime SAMM rams to breed replacement F1 Prime SAMM-Merino ewes.

Continue further down the female line where the mature F1 Prime SAMM-Merino ewes are mated to Poll Dorsets and the maidens are joined by White Suffolk rams for a moderate-sized first lamb.

The British breed rams are usually left with the F1 ewes until the middle of February, as Glen said they wanted to get as many crossbred lambs on the ground as possible.

"You can always sell a crossbred lamb," Glen said.

"If both the crossbred lambs and Merino lambs all drop together, then we can usually get those early-starter crossbred lambs off to market quickly if we need to.

"They get up and going a bit faster and it's handy to have the option."

Producing fast-maturing lambs was one of the main reasons the Cowcher family started crossbreeding, but it also evolved as a viable option when the wool market started to plummet.

In the golden era of the golden fleece, the Cowchers ran a large, predominantly wool-based operation, producing large volumes of wool from the backs of 8000 Merino wethers.

With a large number of their paddocks perfectly suited to running mobs of wethers, the arrangement was beneficial to the Cowchers who have always been passionate about their sheep and wool.

Bales were filled easily after the wethers were shorn in August, but they soon began to notice the sign of the times at the start of this decade, so Glen said they decided to look into other breeds to spread the risk.

"When the wool market wasn't travelling so well, we experimented with Dohne and Prime SAMM rams to start crossbreeding a portion of our ewes," Glen said.

"We decided to go with the Prime SAMMs because when it's a tough season, they seem to do really well.

"At the time, one kilogram of meat was worth roughly the same as one kilogram of wool, so it seemed to be the right move.

"Adding the other breeds (Poll Dorset and White Suffolk) was the next step for the crossbreeding side of the business.

"All of them have different strengths."

The Cowchers started pregnancy scanning their F1 Prime SAMM-Merino ewes eight years ago, the same time they began crossbreeding, to ensure every female was carrying a lamb and earning its keep.

These days they scan all the F1 ewes, the oldest and maiden Merino ewes and any dries are immediately removed, while any F1 ewes pregnant with twins are separated into a smaller, more manageable mob.

Glen said they had been very focused on producing lambs but in recent times, the wool market had shown signs of strengthening, so large numbers of lambs weren't as imperative as it once was.

Almost every sheep is shorn on the property, with half of the ewes shorn at the end of March and the other half at the end of September to produce a handy wool clip averaging 20 micron.

"We have always wanted to remain with a nucleus flock of Merinos and would love to go back to running predominantly wethers," Glen said.

"The wool cheque is definitely still appreciated and we shear pretty much everything.

"But we have come back a bit from producing over 400 bales.

"Our aim is to use breeds with white wool and get the crossbred lambs off the farm as soon as possible.

"I don't know if there's ever a right or wrong path in farming, I think we all just stick to what we enjoy doing, and for us it's sheep."

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