SHEARING at six-month intervals paid off nicely for Challara Poll Merino stud breeders and Badgingarra wool growers, the Wilkinson family, at the Western Wool Centre (WWC) last week.
A concerted effort to lift cut weight and staple length in the past four years since implementing a September and late March-early April spring and autumn shearing regime, backed by an exceptional season, saw the bottom of the Challara clip sold at a premium.
The Challara autumn shearing normally produces an average cut of 3.5-4 kilograms compared to 4-4.5kg per head for the spring shearing, with yield also down slightly in autumn to account for extra dust and dirt collected in the wool over summer.
Six months of wool growth over summer usually produces fleeces with an average staple length of 62-65 millimetres. Last year the winter fleece averaged a staple length of 73mm, but this year, with help from 570mm of rain so far and ample green feed on Challara, the winter fleece average was "closer to 80mm", said Peter Wilkinson who farms with parents Ron and Deanna.
At that length it is suitable for processing as normal top and open top wool, maximising its potential as last week's sale proved.
"We've also come up about 10N/kt (Newtons per kilotex, a measure of staple strength)," Mr Wilkinson said.
"We used to be about 32N/kt but now we're 40-50N/kt.
"We've pushed staple length and density a bit chasing good white wool, but you can't push it too hard because it can have other consequences, like on fertility, so it's a matter of balance."
Mr Wilkinson said it had been worth changing to a spring and autumn shearing regime.
"Prices like we got prove that we can make a profit," he said at the WWC on Thursday last week as a guest of Primaries of WA to watch part of his clip sold.
"The old-timers like to hear of the wool price going over $1000 a bale, well we've certainly achieved that.
"We don't recommend it (spring and autumn shearing) for everyone, but for us it works, and it is now working for some of our (Challara Poll Merino stud) clients as well.
"They've watched what we do and they're giving it a go."
Apart from potentially more income from more wool, spring and autumn shearing also provided some flock management benefits, Mr Wilkinson said.
"We only crutch our ewe weaners, we don't have to crutch anything else because they are shorn every six months," he said.
"We also don't use as much chemical on them.
"I've hardly chased a fly-blown sheep this year, I haven't had to."
With a commercial flock, breeding stock and rams, almost 5000 sheep went through the Challara shearing shed last month, with the lambs still to be shorn in late December-early January.
The six-month shearing produced 126 bales, most of which are still to go to auction in coming weeks.
Only 39 bales of pieces, bellies, locks, stains, two bales of lambs' wool and one and two-bale fleece lots - the bottom of the clip - were auctioned last week.
They sold for an average price of 833 cents per kilogram greasy sweep the floor.
Challara has followed Soft Rolling Skin principles and been pain relief declared for at least six years so there was strong interest from buyers with European connections - from Modiano particularly for pieces and lambs' wool and from Lempriere for fleece.
Competition for pieces was particularly strong, with seven and six-bale lines selling for 934 and 932c/kg to Modiano and PJ Morris Wools.
A bale of AAA lambs' wool sold at 950c/kg.
Lempriere snapped up four of the five Challara fleece lines but was outbid at 1215c/kg by Swan Wool Processors for the one-bale top lot.
Primaries of WA wool manager Greg Tilbrook, who has advised Challara on its change to a spring and autumn shearing regime, said last week's prices for the bottom of the clip augured well for the rest of the fleece lots in future weeks.
"Challara's wool sold exceptionally well in the sale and received good support from all buyers in the room," Mr Tilbrook said.