DOLLARS per hectare, Merinos are stacking up against the cropping program for Greg and Camille Tippet who farm at Shackleton.
Greg is the third generation on the property where Merinos have always had a place within the enterprise, persevering through the ups and downs of the wool industry.
"There certainly were some tough times through the years and I think I started during the very worst period," Greg said.
"That was in the 90s when wool was worth nothing.
"On balance though, we've always done well with the sheep, so we just stuck with it."
Retaining the sheep within their business through the highs and the lows has paid off in spades in recent years, with prices for lamb and wool frequently in record territory.
"Given where the markets have been lately, the Merinos will hold their place in our business for a while yet, that's for sure," Greg said.
"In fact, they're probably near on the best dollars per hectare on the farm at the moment."
The up-turn in sheep and wool returns has brought about a shift in attitudes towards sheep for mixed farmers compared to a few years ago when grain prices were really strong.
"It has been a big change, people used to think of sheep just as a tool to clean the weeds up," Greg said.
"Now we're just making a bit more money out of them and it's a nice reward."
The Tippets mate 2000 Merino ewes every year, utilising the salt country across their property as lambing paddocks.
"For us, sheep make a lot of sense within our business because the salt country obviously isn't arable so by having sheep we can still utilise that land," Greg said.
"The sheep also cut down on the amount of spraying we have to do to keep weeds down so they play an important role."
The flock represents about 35 per cent of the Tippet enterprise, with the remaining 65pc tied up to crop.
"In the past three years we've worked to get our numbers up to 2000 mating ewes from 1800," Greg said.
"Our breeding objective is to produce a dual purpose sheep but the focus has primarily been on fertility."
Management practices and genetic selection have both played a role in driving the fertility and strong lambing percentage in the Tippet flock which typically sits between the 99-115pc range.
"Good fertility is one of the main reasons we like the Haseley bloodline at Manunda," Greg said.
"We've been using that bloodline for many years before the Button family took over and the results have continued.
"We also started pregnancy testing our ewes many years ago now, so we split the twin bearing ewes into smaller mobs of 300 and we feed them grain mixes via lick feeders and that helps keep the ewes in good condition."
The choice to bring in rams with good fertility over the years makes a difference, with Greg saying the majority of the ewe flock produces twins each year.
"We usually end up with more twins than single bearing ewes," he said.
"Of the 2000 we mate, we end up with about 1200 with twins, 650 with singles and usually about 100 drys.
"We usually give the maidens another chance, especially while the price of wool is good, running them dry for a year means we can get a good clip of wool off them.
"That's usually only 20 or 30 anyway so we just throw them in with the ewe lambs that are coming up for the next year."
Like sheep producers across the country, the challenge at lambing for the Tippets is taking as many lambs to weaning as possible.
"With the twinning ewes, we also put a calcium supplement into their grain mix of barley or oats and lupins because we found out a while ago that we were losing ewes to hypercalcemia," Greg said.
"So simply by introducing some calcium to the mix we've seen a huge difference in lambing percentages."
There's still room to improve according to Greg, who said he'd love to get the lambing percentage to 120pc.
"Our scanning rates are usually about 155pc so we'll have to work a bit more to get it up to 120pc," he said.
"Unfortunately I can't see this year's lambing being great because of the later start to the season, but hopefully we'll get to that 100pc mark."
Lambing for the Tippets gets under way in mid-June, timed for the green pick and to suit the cropping program and when it comes to the type of lamb they want to be producing, Greg said an even line of dual purpose lambs was the ideal benchmark.
"We do pretty well with our wool which is around that 20-21 micron mark and we're happy with the kilos we're cutting (about 5kg per head)," Greg said.
"And we're also happy with the prices we're able to achieve for our lambs which go directly to Fletchers when they're about seven to eight months old.
"We find we're able to finish the lambs well on the lupins we grow and it's only the last couple of hundred which need to go into the feedlot.
"They don't grow as fast as crossbred lambs do, but the prices we can get aren't too far from the crossbred price so we're pretty happy with how they perform."
When it comes to classing time for the ewe lambs, Greg said they culled fairly heavily but he hasn't been tempted to join the culls to terminal sires.
"I'd rather focus more on the main flock," Greg said.
"So at shearing in February we usually go through the ewe lambs with the aim of keeping 600 or so then we have 400 to feed for the lamb market.
"You can generally see the difference between the two lines once you've gone through them and put them side by side but I know once you start pumping food into them and go to sell them down the track, I tend to wonder why I'm chucking them out.
"But the good thing about being able to cull hard is that you get a good even line of sheep."
Wayne Button from Manunda stud, Tammin, comes out to Shackleton when the Tippets are classing each year.
"I could do it myself but Wayne offers the classing service and it's good to have another eye run over them," Greg said.
When asked what he looks for in a Merino, Greg said he looked at everything.
"We want a nice and uncomplicated shape, an open face and not too much wrinkle," he said.
"I like to see a bit of condition in the wool, nothing too dry, and we do look for the Haseley bloodline when we go to the Manunda sale, just because as I said we like the fertility in them."
With lamb prices on their current trajectory and the wool market having been good, focusing on upping Merino lamb numbers on the ground can't hurt.
Greg admitted he preferred the sheep side of the business to the cropping, and that's a good way to be when the markets are stacking up.