IF you are in the Merino industry because you love wool then, like Corrigin-based producer Callum Nicholls, you would be glad to see the value of the fibre move in the direction it has in recent months.
“We run about 6000 Merinos here and the reason for having Merinos as opposed to another breed is that we’ve always been interested in the wool side of it,” Callum said.
“We’ve always had a good wool clip and we’ve worked on it for many years.”
Callum said the family had a go at running crossbreds but they didn’t stick.
“I just didn’t have the same amount of interest in the crossies as I do with the Merinos, so we just picked the sheep we got more enjoyment out of working with,” he said.
The bloodlines the Nicholls family run these days are largely from Kamballie stud, Tammin, which are running at about five or six dry-sheep-equivalent per hectare in a 75 per cent crop to 25pc livestock enterprise.
“We’re happy with the amount of sheep we have at the moment and the genetics we’re using are performing well for what we want to do with the sheep,” Callum said.
“The Kamballie rams are a good size with nice wool quality which is what we like.
“We used to have a few issues through the shoulders but we’re getting rid of that problem now with the Kamballie genetics, so we’re going towards a nice plain, heavy cutting sheep now.”
The average for the flock wool cut is about six kilograms and the micron is between 19-20.
“That’s good enough for us,” Callum said.
“We’re not really chasing the micron too much – we don’t want it to get away from us but that’s not the main focus.
“We breed our own rams now so we’re only buying top quality at the sale and that’s when we’re looking at the micron, but I don’t put everything on that, rather we look more at the yield and greasy and clean fleece weight.
“Obviously we look at the ram itself as well – I’m only buying one or two rams so I want to make sure it’s sort of perfect really.”
When it’s time for classing for replacement ewes and selecting rams, Shane Mackin from Kamballie stud and Mitchell Crosby from Landmark help out.
“It helps having extra eyes looking over the rams and the flock to help it improve – they’ve done a good job for us,” Callum said.
“They go through and look for shoulder problems, length in the staple, baldness around the head, wool coverage and style in the wool.
“Shane is an awesome bloke and I think it’s great we have such a good relationship with our stud breeder.”
Good relationships and a willingness to try new things for their sheep enterprise are factors which have helped the Nicholls operation move forward.
One change which has helped in that effort was the move to shearing just prior to Christmas in order to give the family a chance to take a summer holiday.
“We used to shear towards the end of January but we’re glad we moved to December because we’re finding the wool is a lot cleaner now with a lot less stuff in it so it tests a lot better,” Callum said.
When asked how many bales the enterprise produced annually, Callum said a couple of years ago hitting a personal record of 151 bales was exciting.
“I thought that was pretty good but we went down to the woolstores and you see it’s about half of what others do,” he said.
“For us 151 bales was really good though.”
When asked if he subscribed to the double shearing trend which seems to be happening in WA at the moment, Callum said the hoggets had a clip twice a year.
“But that’s mainly because we shear them when they’re really young so they don’t get grass seeds in them,” he said.
“Then we do them again in July so basically it’s just the hoggets and the rams that get two shearings which is really only a management thing.”
Lambing this year went well.
“We’ve got two lots of lambing because we mate early and then whatever doesn’t get pregnant we mate again,” he said.
“So this year we’ve dropped in the start of May and in July.
“We’re at about 100 pc this year which we didn’t think we were going to get because we lost a few ewes and things.”
Callum believes some mineral mixes made a big difference to lambing success this year.
“The ewes this year struggled a bit because of the lack of feed but we put this mineral mix out with a lot of calcium and it did a wonder for the earlier lambing,” he said.
“We’ve been doing the double lambing for about the past five or six years but we’re still playing around with that.
“Next year we’ll probably only mate the maidens and the older ewes early to give the maidens another chance if they don’t fall pregnant the first go around and the older drys can be sold.”
Playing around to see what works for the enterprise also extends to crop grazing trials, with Callum and local Landmark Corrigin livestock representative James Culleton in the yards last week weighing hoggets which were coming off a crop and pasture grazing trial.
“I like running trials and seeing what works for us and what doesn’t,” Callum said.
“With this trial which we’re doing with the Corrigin Farm Improvement Group we put the same amount of sheep on to barley and pasture paddocks to see how they performed.
“We weighed them on, grazed them for two weeks and then weighed them off.
“The option could have been to do the trial over a week but I wanted to be able to see a bit more difference than what you would see after only a week.”
The result of the grazing trial was the barley crop clearly outperformed the pasture.
“The crop grazing mob started off averaging 41.8kg when they went in and came off again at 46.8kg,” Callum said.
“But the pasture ones were about 43kg when they started and only gained about 1kg on the normal pastures.
“So that’s quite the difference – it’s clear you can get a lot out of crop grazing if you can manage the grazing window right.”
How long you graze for is really important.
“Some people like to put a big number onto the crop and knock it down, whereas I’m more into using lower numbers so they don’t eat it off too quickly and you allow more time for your pastures to get away which is the whole point.”
This was the first time Callum had done this trail, though he had grazed crops before.
“We’ve only crop grazed before when the season is right,” he said.
“We got rain at the perfect time this year to be able to do this trial and we’ve also done other crop grazing this year.
“Last year we didn’t get a real break until the start of July so it was no good for grazing crops because the cut off time you want to be bringing sheep off the paddocks is mid-July so it wouldn’t have worked.”
On the topic of what to do within the uncertain live shipping trade climate, Callum said rather than looking into holding onto wethers for their wool as an option, he’d rather look at holding unmated ewes.
“The way I see it, dry ewes which still could be mated might hold value a bit better than wethers,” Callum said.
“I could keep cull ewes back and not mate them but still get the wool off them.
“From there someone else might want them to breed so there are more options with ewes than wethers I think.”
Callum said in reality he thinks his flock numbers would have to take a dive if live shipping gets banned.
“But it’s just a waiting game at the moment – we’ll have to wait and see what happens,” he said.