Shearing reveals scars of Scaddan fire

13 Feb, 2017 10:00 PM
David Vandenberghe (left), Wattle Dale Merino stud, Scadden and Westcoast Wools'broker and auctioneer Danny Ryan inspect wool samples.
As they were shorn you could see the scarring from the fire on some of the ewes.
David Vandenberghe (left), Wattle Dale Merino stud, Scadden and Westcoast Wools'broker and auctioneer Danny Ryan inspect wool samples.

A DECEMBER shearing brought back reminders of the horror of the November 2015 Esperance region bushfires for Scaddan farmer and volunteer firefighter David Vandenberghe.

"As they were shorn you could see the scarring from the fire on some of the ewes," Mr Vandenberghe said on Thursday last week during a visit to Westcoast Wools' show floor to inspect his clip samples.

"The ear tags on some of them melted in the heat, but they survived," he said.

"We are still seeing the effects of the fire in our sheep operation.

"I'd like to get our lambing rates back up a bit.

"Some of the ewes have (burns) scarring on their udders and at certain times, particularly when it's cold, it must cause discomfort because they won't let the lamb suckle."

Mr Vandenberghe and his wife Katherine farm across five properties and were lucky their commercial Merino flock and home property was not directly impacted by the deadly Cascade fire that killed fellow farmer Kym "Freddy" Curnow and backpackers Tom Butcher, Julia Kohrs-Licht, and Anna Winther.

But more than 2400 hectares of their sheep and cropping enterprise was burned out and they lost 720 of their prized Wattle Dale stud ewes on another property devastated by the blaze.

Mr Vandenberghe's parents, Wally and Margaret, started their Merino stud in 1963.

The Cascade fire was one of three that burned for 17 days in the Esperance region.

But, the recovery since has been "pretty good", Mr Vandenberghe said.

Wheat and barley tonnages harvested last season were "the best we've had" but protein was down and soil nitrogen was less than expected.

As good as his crops were, his sheep have done better, helped by an exceptional season and plenty of green feed.

So much so he intends to cut back on his usual 3000ha cropping operation in the coming season and turn another "couple of hundred hectares" over to sheep.

"We had one of our wettest years with 21 inches (482 millimetres of rain), that certainly helped (the recovery), so the sheep were fat with plenty of wool on them.

"The shearers were complaining," Mr Vandenberghe said.

"I weighed one ewe at 110 kilograms and we had a maiden ewe at weaning time which weighed 105kg, the flock average was 81kg.

"The average cut (of wool per sheep) was 7.7kg and our yield was up a bit."

Mr Vandenberghe said his main shearing of more than 6000 sheep in December - hampered by a rain shower the first day and power going out on three other days - produced an even clip of 231 bales.

Despite the loss of stud ewes in the fire he has managed to rebuild flock numbers.

"We had two big drops of lambs, which was lucky, and we bought some ewes in from Billandri stud, Kendenup.

"We also kept some ewes for an extra 12 months beyond what we normally would have.

"We ended up only down 150 in numbers from where we were before the fire."

Mr Vandenberghe his annual shearing was three months earlier and the December shearing completed the first 12-month cycle.

"(Previously) we were trying to mate sheep that had nine months wool on them.

"Our conception rate improved 10-15 per cent just with the change," Mr Vandenberghe said.

So far, the only down side to shearing earlier appears to be some freshly-shorn sheep suffering sunburn on their backs after a spell of very hot weather, he said.

The best ram sales Mr Vandenberghe could remember have also helped this season's sheep operation out perform cropping.

"We've had repeat clients who run Dohne flocks come back to us," he said.

Recent wool prices - finer micron wools started the year at record prices - had generated interest, he said, in adding more quality Merino bloodline to Dohne flocks to improve the wool quality side of the dual purpose equation.

Mr Vandenberghe said he had sold his pieces and bellies wool at the start of the year and was very pleased with the prices he received.

His lambs wool sold the previous week at the Western Wool Centre (WWC), when prices had retreated from record territory, at 1010 cents per kilogram greasy.

Last Thursday 145 bales of his fleece wool in 11 lines and two more lines of lambs wool were sold.

The fleece lines ranged from 17.4 to 18.7 micron, with one small line of 19.6 micron wool, and staple lengths from 92 out to 108 millimeetres but mostly about 100.

Yields ranged from 58.8 to 68.8 per cent and strength generally ranged from 71 to 81Nkt.

Apart from one line which was passed in at auction, but sold by Westcoast Wools auctioneer Danny Ryan immediately after the auction for 1165c/kg, the Vandenberghe wool sold to strong bidding between Lempriere and Chinatex Australia.

The top line returned 1167c/kg and all fleece lines sold for an average of 1092c/kg, justifying the faith in wool and effort put into bouncing back after having almost half the farm burned out by an unstoppable bushfire.

Mal Gill

Mal Gill

is wool and dairy writer for Farm Weekly


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Rusty...A shearing shed on a small place, might be used a week to five each year. 50 years down
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No varieties of barley left in WA suitable for Craft Beer production and little research. Craft
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We farm at Beacon we had no rain last time .Since the 1st of Jan.we have recorded 45 mm ,6mm