THE Bowey family could be forgiven for forgetting they even have sheep.
Alan Bowey and his two sons John and Brian all confess their main commercial focus is the cropping program on their Kulin farm, where the sheep are a mere sideline enterprise that happen to efficiently keep the weeds down.
And their sheep breed of choice is so easy-care that they rarely have to handle them, with the exception of weaning and tagging time.
So it is perhaps surprising to learn that despite this laid-back approach, the Bowey family are at the forefront of breeding breakthroughs, having been among the first commercial sheep producers to start breeding UltraWhites.
The UltraWhite is the creation of sheep industry leader and breeder Dawson Bradford, who decided to use a calculated combination of Poll Dorset and White Dorper genetics to create the ultimate meat machine.
As a result, the UltraWhite rams contain one quarter Poll Dorset and three quarters White Dorper, infusing the best traits of both breeds including muscling, early-maturity, taste and eatability, size, bare-breech and shedding.
The Boweys recognised the potential of the UltraWhites in its early stages and were one of the first producers to trial the breed over their 3000 Dorper breeders three years ago.
They continue to be impressed with the results and even more so with the easy-care nature of their flock, particularly at busy periods such as seeding and harvesting their 4200 hectare cropping program.
"We are very happy with the UltraWhites," Brian said.
"Dawson has been doing a lot of work with the breeding objectives and other things such as the taste and eatability and we are impressed with how well they do.
"We only run sheep to supplement the cropping program, so we need a breed that looks after itself.
"We don't have to shear, crutch or mules and we haven't had any problems with flies for years.
"That's how we need it to be."
Like most producers in the Wheatbelt, Alan, John and Brian started with a Merino base and decided in the new millennium that they wanted to try a new breed of sheep.
So in 2000, they started running a Dorper flock side by side with their Merinos, eventually phasing the Merino element out through crossbreeding with Dorper rams, shearing their last sheep in 2010.
After discovering the UltraWhite, the Boweys realised they could keep the best traits the Dorper and White Dorper offered, while injecting some size and sound feet from the Poll Dorset element.
Some of the most crucial elements attributed with the success of their flock have been high fertility rates, shedding ability, early-maturing lambs and improving their fencing, adding electric fences to the paddocks into where the lambs are weaned.
They work on three lambs over a two year period, essentially weaning all the lambs off their mothers, allowing the ewes to recover and reach 55 kilograms before the UltraWhite rams are put back in for an eight week joining.
Due to the fluid nature of this practice, there is no clear-cut mating or lambing period but John said they worked out they achieve between 150-160 per cent lambing over a 12 month period, including maiden ewes.
"Essentially three lambs over two years more than compensates for a wool clip, in our opinion," John said.
"Our maiden ewes are joined at 10 months of age and are having their second lamb when a maiden Merino ewe would only be having its first.
"In addition to that, we have hardly any input costs or time consuming practices such as shearing, so we save there too.
"We put hardly any work into them, so our sheep basically look after themselves."
The staggered lambing ensures the Boweys have a saleable product almost 12 months of the year, allowing them access to markets and peak prices outside the traditional spring flush.
They sell to wherever the market is best, usually to processors and exporters, and since using UltraWhite genetics, the Boweys have never kept a saleable lamb on their property past six months.
From their 3000 breeders, John said they have sold 4000 sheep in the past 12 months and just the other day offloaded the first of their young, new season lambs for $101.
Fast growth rates and excellent feed conversion ensures the Boweys' lambs get up and going quickly, purely on paddock feed as Alan said they haven't had to hand feed sheep for the past few years.
"I used to spend so much time with the sheep feeder behind the ute," Alan said.
"It wasn't that efficient, but we haven't had to feed our sheep in a few years.
"They clean up the paddocks so well and will eat almost anything.
"That's the best type of sheep for us, we don't have to think about them too much and they work side by side with our cropping."