Rewarded for investment at Moonyoonooka

Rewarded for investment at Moonyoonooka

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 Andrew (left) and Michael Culloton, Moonyoonooka, are looking forward to the completion of their new shearing shed in time for their spring 2019 shearing.

Andrew (left) and Michael Culloton, Moonyoonooka, are looking forward to the completion of their new shearing shed in time for their spring 2019 shearing.

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Two Moonyoonooka Merino farmers are eagerly awaiting the completion of their newest investment - a completely upgraded four-stand shearing shed.

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TWO Moonyoonooka Merino farmers are eagerly awaiting the completion of their newest investment - a completely upgraded four-stand shearing shed.

Father and son duo Michael and Andrew represent the third and fourth generations of the Culloton family who have run Merinos at their Myhyll property east of Geraldton.

"It's really exciting to be building a new shearing shed," Andrew said.

"When you're making money from sheep and wool, you're happy to reinvest."

Reinvesting in their sheep business is about looking to the future according to Michael.

"If you can't spend the money now with wool prices they way they are, you'll never be able to do it," Michael said.

"We see wool as a long-term future, it's been in our blood forever and that's not going to change, so that's why we're building the new shed.

"People will go spend a quarter of a million dollars on a tractor and not bat an eyelid but the way I see it, if you put up a $150,000 shearing shed at least it will be there for the next 50 years."

In Michael's own words, sheep have been on the family property "forever and a day" since his grandfather started farming the place in 1940.

"In 1978 I started buying the place off the old man and about five years ago, Andrew started buying the place off me," Michael said.

Reinvesting in their sheep business is about looking to the future for the Culloton family.

Reinvesting in their sheep business is about looking to the future for the Culloton family.

The place has been added to over the years, starting off from 1600 hectares in Michael's grandfather's day, which has grown to about 2400ha now and is boosted further by agistment agreements with neighbours when there's stubble waiting to be eaten.

"We run mainly sheep and there's about 90 breeding Poll Herefords as well," Michael said.

The vast majority of the sheep on the property are of the Merino variety, with about 3000 Merino ewes joined in total this year.

The breeding flock is divided into two businesses, one

for each Michael and Andrew to take charge of, with Michael presiding over 1700 breeding ewes (about 20 per cent mated to Prime SAMMs) and Andrew the rest.

Additional to that they have 800-1000 unmated hoggets and usually about 2500-3000 lambs to sell, depending on the year.

"We had two lines of sheep when Andrew came back to the farm," Michael said.

"We had the line my father has had forever and a day which I haven't added any ewes to which Andrew now has, and I have the line that I started in 1978 which was made up of sheep I'd bought in from different places."

It's the sheep that keep the place running, with about 90pc of their business tied up to livestock.

"The majority of the property is suited to livestock," Andrew said.

"We only put in about 400ha of crop this year but we don't have much of a choice because of the rocks and bush on the property."

Michael said the property lended itself to Merinos.

"Our wool comes off the property clean," he said.

"I suppose down south they probably get a bit better yield but we're usually around that 60-70pc yield mark and we're very happy with that."

The Cullotons shear in March and October and between them turn off about 140 bales each year, an amount which is uncommon in the area.

"Most people run sheep as a sideline to their grain businesses," Michael said.

But Michael spent many years in shearing sheds, so his passion for wool means not only are Merinos an easy fit for the terrain of their property, there's a standard to meet for any rams joining the breeding program at Myhill.

Each year the Cullotons buy Poll Merinos from the Teakle family's Walkindyer stud, Northampton, which have helped drive the quality and cut of wool their flock is producing.

When asked what they looked for in a ram, Michael said he didn't like bare heads or scurs.

"It's got to be a Poll with nice, bright wool, it's got to be heavy-cutting and look to be a good doer," he said.

Michael also used to like a bit of roll in the skin of his Merinos but doesn't feel quite the same way anymore.

"The shearers used to complain about all the rolls in their skin but I'd always say there was a couple extra kilos of wool in those folds," Michael said.

"But over the years we have plained them up a bit.

"In saying that though, I think the rams have improved too because they're still producing the same amount if not more wool."

The micron sits comfortably within the 19-20 range and the Cullotons are able to average a wool cut of about 6kg per head average.

Heavy cutting wool has produced strong returns for the Cullotons and woolgrowers across the State in recent years, but recent record sheep prices have also played a role in the bolstered confidence around the industry.

When it comes to marketing their own sheep and lambs, the Cullotons put their faith in their long time stock agent Trevor Smythe, Landmark Geraldton, who places them depending on the year's market conditions.

"We try to have all the sale sheep off the place by the end of the first week in May," Michael said.

"That's the best fit for the rest of the operation when we've got new lambs coming on in June, we're bringing sheep back off agistment and so on."

Among their lambs to sell are some Prime SAMM-Merino cross lambs, which are the final drop from the cast for age mob of ewes each year.

"In the past 10 years we've been drafting off the older ewes to join to Sandown SAMMs and those ewes go to market after they've reared their last lamb," Michael said.

"We've found those crossie lambs are robust and early maturing so they've done well for us."

But there's no risk of the Culloton sheep going all Prime SAMM.

"As I said, I love wool - that's where I really get enjoyment out of it," Michael said.

It sounds like Andrew has come around to seeing things his dad's way too.

"Growing up I did tease dad a bit about having Merinos when they weren't worth too much," Andrew said.

"But I've changed my tune now - they're doing alright these days aren't they?"

It wasn't that long ago that Merinos were still a hard slog towards profitability and indeed many producers in the northern parts of the State have turned towards cropping more seriously in recent times.

"Three or four years ago was definitely the turning point for us," Michael said.

"I found myself saying I'd never known sheep could be this good and someone joked about getting that on tape because farmers are usually pretty good at whinging.

"But the sheep have certainly been good to us recently with wool, sheep and even grain prices right up there - I wish it had happened 20 years ago.

"The beauty about farming Merinos at the moment is we're getting reward for our efforts but you need the passion for it to stick with them."

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