DESPITE having an enviable water infrastructure setup, Merinos at Benilkie Station are still required to walk great distances to water points.
This is what motivates the type of sheep bred at the 37,000 hectare station, situated in the saltbush plains of the western Riverina.
“Sheep should be simple – big, plain and robust,” Benilkie pastoralist Russell Nield said.
This year, 9,000 ewes were mated to Alma Merino rams, bred by the Morphett family, Booligal, and lambed in extremely dry conditions.
The operation’s traditional Collinsville type ewes record from 19 to 21.5 micron, and average 6.5 kilograms of bold white, crimpy wool.
The property averages 300 millimetres of rainfall annually, with alluvial loam and clay soils.
All wether lambs and White Suffolk first cross lambs are sold prior to shearing on farm, while surplus young ewes and five year old ewes are sold in the Hay sheep sale in September. This is to avoid shearing which is done across 20 days on the remaining 15,000 head breeding flock.
Sheep are crutched early February, while lambing begins on April 1 before marking on June 10.
The enterprise has focused on water infrastructure to capitalise on the region’s reliable water basin, with water security achieved with 35 dams across the property, together with two bores and 150 kilometres of poly pipeline which were constructed in the past 15 years.
The pipeline feeds plastic tanks and cement troughs which are monitored by a telemetry watering system, providing three to four watering points per paddock.
Despite the reliable water, drought conditions following two dry autumns challenged the age-old debate as to whether graziers should supplement feed stock.
“Once you’ve pushed pastoral country to the point the feed base is reduced and eaten out, it can take years to come back,” he said.
So like everything Mr Nield does, it is meticulously managed.
“I look at the season, feed base and rainfall forecast, and then I adjust my numbers to suit,” he said.
“We are conservative stockers. When you live in a semi-arid zone you will always put your money on it not raining.
“I believe in stocking your country to what it can support – managing your resources is the most profitable way to make money in the pastoral areas.”