CUTTING through the fog of the latest research and technology available in sheep farming was a key theme of the inaugural Stock Con conference held in Perth.
Run by AgPro Management with the support of Meat and Livestock Australia and BioJohn, the two-day conference featured a diverse list of speakers that covered off on all aspects of running sheep from handling, to genetic tools to the latest ground breaking technology coming on line.
The conference concluded with a nutrition masterclass from vet and nutritionist Adrian Baker and a tour of the Peel live export feedlot facility.
AgPro Management's Ed Riggall said AgPro had been building a network of clients and StockPro groups around the State for the past 10 years.
"Over that time we have steadily increased that network and improved our communication," Mr Riggall said.
"We now communicate through the WhatsApp network, email newsletters and recently we started a podcast which has had a huge uptake doubling our newsletter reads.
"All through this period we have got groups together for combined tours of farms, abattoirs, research centres, live export boats and feedlots.
"I was keen to create an event to get everyone in one room, and the timing was right, there is a lot of noise in the sheep area and I am always keen to cut through this and get the facts out to clients.
"So it's great to get a bunch of smart people in the room to straighten out or refine my thoughts.
"On top of value adding to clients it was great to give producers around the State the opportunity to participate.
"We couldn't be happier with the day, the presenters were awesome and translated complex research and ideas into easily understandable presentations.
"The side shows were also well received with lots of inquiries and even a few suitX orders.
"We have also created no end of discussion points for our next client meetings and group catch ups and the local WhatsApp groups are buzzing with new ideas."
The day's proceedings were kicked off by Nuffield scholar and Kendenup farmer Andrew Slade who had recently returned from a global trip that investigated the use of technology and barriers to producer uptake.
Mr Slade said while there was masses of technology available to collect on-farm data, the ag tech sector hadn't done a good job of showing the value of that data.
"The common complaint or concern is that we are not really seeing the big lifts in productivity you might expect," he said.
"Technology isn't really making farmers more profitable, but it is making farming easier.
"There is a lot of ag tech out there and much of it delivers a marginal return on investment and the amount that is expected to be implemented and maintained and run can chew up a lot of time.
"What farmers need is real decision support tools to inform decision making based on the data collected.
"In terms of the ag tech sector, there are concerns that nine out of 10 start ups fail to reach commercialisation and fundamentally farmer uptake is slow.
"A lot of the solutions put out there are solutions looking for a problem and they are not really identifying what farmers' real needs are.
"The on-the-ground back up and support available or provided is also a big consideration for purchasing decisions."
A look at remote sensors and the roles they could play on farm was provided by Mote Net director Mike Dean.
Mr Dean said remote sensor monitoring could reduce time pressures and labour issues that farming businesses face.
"They can really reduce the time required to inspect tanks or troughs," Mr Dean said.
"Remote sensors can make centralised and automated data recording better which can lead to improvements in productivity."
Mr Dean said Mote Net worked more on the provision of the sensors themselves and the infrastructure to deliver data.
"In terms of losses of either stock water or assets, the remote sensing can allow alerts to be sent direct to your phone which allows farmers to intervene quicker and lose less," he said.
"Remote sensing can also allow alerts by SMS or email where there is detection of unauthorised entry to farms or movements on farms can be detected, which can combat theft and so on."
A practical discussion on sheep handling then followed, with Patricia 'Chook' Paull entertaining the crowd with her unique view on mustering sheep.
Growing up on a cattle station in the north of the State, Ms Paull said she hadn't dealt with sheep in her early life but little did she know that her experience with mustering cattle would be transposed into how she dealt with sheep.
Taking a job on a sheep property prompted her to attend a livestock handling course with Neil McDonald.
"What I saw there married perfectly with my experience at home on the station with the deep respect and connection we had with our cattle," Ms Paull said.
"We had an old-fashioned, shepherding approach to herding cattle on the station, someone walks in front of them and they follow the leader.
"There is no pressure or calves being left behind, and this translated perfectly into sheep because if you push sheep fast you end up with a heap of lambs at the back."
Ms Paull said dogs were extremely important to the way her system worked.
"The first thing sheep do when you head into a paddock is run to the furthest corner," she said.
"If you send your dogs around and block them, so they know if they are leaving you they are getting pressure relief by coming back to you because they are more concerned about the dogs.
"Then you can work on getting that connection with your mob that you are their leader.
"Within a month or two you had handled each mob once or twice and it was a positive experience for them and they weren't running anymore.
"It does take time to set the foundations of your mob, but you can get to the point where it was taking two or three vehicles bringing a mob in to the yards to just me and two or three dogs.
"It wasn't stressful and made stock working fun again."
Ms Paull said the system worked on conditioning the animals, so they weren't afraid to go somewhere regardless of what the conditions were.
"Rather than conditioning the infrastructure to deal with the sheep, you are conditioning the sheep to deal with the infrastructure," she said.
Other speakers on the day included Dr Andrew Thompson, Murdoch University, who spoke about joining ewe lambs and was it worth it and Phil Barrett-Lennard, Agvivo, who discussed growing and sheep feed 365 days a year in a Mediterranean environment.