DIVERSIFICATION and innovative strategies have kept Busselton farmer Craig Power and his family at the forefront of WA's livestock industry over the past decade.
The third-generation farmer had his passion for livestock instilled at a young age, from his father and grandfather who were sawmillers and invested heavily in farmland.
Today Craig is well-recognised throughout the beef cattle industry, trading as K.D. Power Pastoral Company Pty Ltd, however an equal passion for sheep has always existed.
"I have a strong affiliation with beef cattle but the younger memories of the hustle and bustle in the shearing shed and the natural fibre of wool has always excited me," Craig said.
A family decision was made in 2004 to focus on the cattle operation in Busselton.
"Unfortunately, the closure of the mill and the purchase of a property in north Boyup Brook prompted the shift from sheep to a solely cattle enterprise," he said.
Currently running a closed herd of 1300 Angus breeders and trading 600 plus steers, 300 heifers and 150 mated females annually keeps Craig busy.
Yet, when he noticed the original shearing shed and sheep yards falling down on his parents' 720 hectare home property, he knew something had to be done.
Craig said he couldn't let this part of history die.
"My grandfather built them during his milling days, 50 years ago," he said.
"I want my children to experience the diversity of farming, just as I did growing up."
The shearing shed was still in good working order despite its age and Craig said only a few minor repairs were needed.
"The yards were unrepairable and materials were sourced," he said.
"I purchased two rows of buying pens from the old Katanning saleyards to refurbish them."
By 2017 the shed and yards had been restored and Craig had the facilities quickly in use.
An opportunity to lease vineyards in the local area presented itself and the purchase of 700 wethers from the Gooding family, Darkan, began Craig's introduction back into the dual-purpose breed.
Like his Angus cattle, Craig's goal is to successfully produce a self-replacing Merino flock.
With this goal in mind and the financial backing from Westcoast Wool & Livestock, he has been able to purchase 3000 ewes of varying ages from Darkan producer Peter Morrell.
"With 30 years of breeding behind them and ideally suited to high rainfall areas, Peter's sheep were a perfect choice," Craig said.
The ewes are now on their third lambing and a recent purchase of 1000 ewe hoggets has increased the mated flock to 4000 head this season.
Great assistance from full-time livestock manager, Brook Kelly and the availability of 780ha of lease land from Busselton to Forest Grove, helped Craig to steadily increase his numbers.
"In the first year all the ewes were joined to Suffolk and White Suffolk sires," Craig said.
"With very little time, I purchased whatever rams I could to join my ewes."
For the past two years Craig has sourced his rams from the Jackson family's, Westerdale stud, McAlinden and earlier this year, as a comparison, he purchased five rams from the Corker family, Hivew stud, Boyup Brook.
"The performance of the rams is very similar," Craig said.
Westerdale stud principal Peter Jackson has been very helpful in selecting Craig's rams and has offered to help class his ewe lambs before the 2020 mating.
The quality rams with well-nourished wool are joined to the ewes for six weeks from late January at 2.5-3 per cent.
On day 90 the ewes are pregnancy scanned by Tim Stevenson, KD Genetics, Jingalup and are split into single and twin lambing groups.
The ewes are put on a rising plane of nutrition on day 100 of pregnancy, with the singles getting 400g/day and the multiples 500g/day.
"Conception rates for the ewes were 95pc, with 44pc carrying singles and 51pc carrying multiples this season," Craig said.
"There's been a lot of twins on the ground lately."
From May to June the home property received more than 250 millimetres of rain, but up until then it's been an expensive and long supplementary feeding period.
"The pastures are getting away now but buying in lupins from the Nyabing area and feeding out 300g/day over the summer months has been a tiresome job for everyone," Craig said.
Feeding stops at the end of June, a week prior to lambing.
The main shearing for the ewes takes place in early January and a smaller shearing in September and late November is completed for the wether lambs.
"A local shearing team is put together, with Brook's dad coming out of retirement to do the classing," Craig said.
"The newly-restored shearing shed and yards, including the good infrastructure on the Forest Grove farm supports the three separate shearings well."
Dyson Jones local wool agent Paul Blight has assisted Craig with the marketing of his wool.
"Paul couldn't be more helpful with my preliminary clips off my wether lambs," Craig said.
"But they're hard to match wool types are one of the main reasons I am steering towards a self-replacing flock.
"Breeding my own seems to be the way to go."
With high yielding, white wool which are characteristics of the bloodlines the flock is now based on, Craig has sold 220 bales, including fleeces, bellies and pieces this season.
The 19.3 micron wool which yielded 68.8pc returned 1429c/kg greasy weight (2077c/kg clean).
"Craig and his team are successfully producing wool from their self-replacing flock in an area that many people have said wasn't possible," Mr Blight said.
Along with building up the self-replacing flock, Craig is still buying wether lambs and in autumn is growing them out in vineyards which he leases throughout the lower South West region.
"It's a bit absurd buying more farmland down this way and the only practical way to expand my sheep enterprise is to lease," Craig said.
He now sources up to 3000 wethers annually, with the majority coming from the Darkan area.
"I buy them in November-December and they are shorn before grazing the stubbles and into rows of local vineyards," Craig said.
"They aid in weed and pest control and reduce chemical costs to the wine growers."
The wethers are able to graze the vineyards for approximately three months or until the fruit buds begin to burst.
They are then taken out and with the pasture having had time to get away, are put onto good feed and shorn again before being sold.
Westcoast Wool & Livestock representative Mat Lowe markets Craig's shippers at 18 months of age in October-November and last year they averaged $120-$130.
With the uncertainty of the live export trade, Craig has recently built a small feedlot on the home property.
Craig said he built six small pens which can hold up to a maximum of 300 head each.
"As a trial I purchased 2000 Merino-Dohne cross lambs to work out the correct rations and what capacity was feasible if I need to continue on with the wethers," he said.
"The lambs were in there for 40-50 days and then sold directly to V&V Walsh."
While Craig's flock numbers steadily rise, he wonders why Merinos aren't used more often in the region.
"I think many believe this country is too wet, however the genetics that are available enable the dual-purpose breed to perform well and has supported my goal of diverse farming," he said.
"It has taken me 10 years to build my beef herd to where it is today, and I look forward to the future in Merinos and breeding a productive self-replacing flock."