SHEEP are a practical and viable enterprise and finding the right breed to fit your operation can mean all the difference in tough years, according to Pindar farmer Mike Kerkman.
Mike and his wife Debra farm in what can be described as marginal country, where farms make way for stations, east of Mullewa.
A passion for farming led Mike to be a first-generation farm owner 25 years ago and he has not looked back since.
This affinity has meant the Kerkmans have a very pragmatic approach to how and what they include in their enterprise mix, to remain viable.
Currently the Kerkmans own 10,000 acres (4047ha) and lease a further 7000ac (2833ha), with 7500ac (3035ha) given over to their cropping program.
Although sheep have always been a part of their business, they have increased their flock size since their switch to the Dohne breed 10 years ago.
"At present we run 3000 breeding ewes," Mike said.
"Our ratio of cropping to sheep is around 60:40 at the moment, but we are working towards a 50:50 ratio in the future."
Mike said one of the main reasons they had the number of sheep they run is their son Max, who is currently the branch manager at AFGRI, Albany.
"We have tried all sorts of breeds in the past," Mike said.
"Dorpers were too difficult to keep in the paddock.
"We liked the Merinos when we had them, but when the opportunity came up 10 years ago to run Dohnes, we couldn't pass it up."
Mike said they had a connection to Alex Leach, Glenlea Dohne stud, Katanning, which was how their initial venture into the breed started.
A conversation about their fallow land led to the acquisition of 300 mature ewes from the Leach's stud, a venture that has become an integral part of their business.
"We used to crop 6500ha and leave 6500ha fallow," Mike said.
"Alex asked me what I did with the 6500ha fallow, which led to us getting 300 of his older ewes.
"They are such good doers, we haven't looked back."
Mike said the suitability of the breed to their operation had certainly kept them going in the tougher years.
The option to be able to truck sheep to agistment, means they have the ability to make money again, even after a drought year when crops have failed.
"They really are worth it in the tough times," Mike said.
"We can always keep a nucleus flock on agistment, which can then come back on-farm and make us money again.
"The main issues we deal with here are the seasonal conditions and the Dohnes cope with this better than most breeds."
Having good genetics is a big part of this, with Alex Leach being the first person in WA to bring in the Dohne breed.
Mike said they truly were a dual-purpose breed and had proven themselves time and again on their property.
"You have to remember too that we are buying sheep from Katanning," he said.
"We are bringing them all the way up here and they are adapting to these conditions, not only adapting but thriving."
Mike said they had tried to breed sheep mainly for the lamb production in the past, but the price of wool had made it worth their while to focus more on their wool quality and quantity.
The Dohnes have proven themselves as good breeders with consistent lambing percentages within the Kerkman's operation.
"At present we don't produce a huge amount of wool, but we do produce quality wool," he said.
"We have an average micron between 18 and 19, with a 60 per cent yield."
Mike said they were shearing every eight months, three times in two years, but this meant they were only averaging about 4kg cut per head.
The change in the market, chasing longer wool, has meant they have now returned to once a year shearing.
One of the significant advantages of the dual-purpose traits of the Dohne breed according to Mike, is the fact the lambs are sold as crossbreds on the market and the wool is classified the same as Merino.
"We are happy with the frame we have on our sheep, now we are aiming for more wool production," Mike said.
"Alex has Polls now and we can see a change in the amount of wool we are getting from these new genetics."
The Kerkmans have an average of 100pc lambing and attribute this to their extended and staggered joining times.
"We leave rams in for six weeks at a rate of 2.5pc," he said.
"We have differing mating times for different mobs.
"Depending on the paddock size we run between six and eight mobs."
Mike said having the mobs drop at different times was a management decision that also helped to mitigate their risk in tough years.
Their first lambs are born in May and the program runs through to July, allowing for the break in the season.
It allows them to move sheep around and if it is a drier year they are able to shift the sheep around.
The staggered drop also permits them to sell at different times and to different markets.
"We grow our own feed and utilise lick feeders," Mike said.
"Lately we have been running the lambs through a feedlot, on the home property, to finish them off.
"This situation has allowed us to see the quality of the sheep we are breeding and have confidence in the quality of the rams we are buying."
Mike said a 30kg lamb didn't take long to put on weight and 40-50kg sheep have a really quick turn around time.
It has meant they are able to look at supply and demand and if the price is good they will sell to a processor, likewise for Muchea.
"We are definitely sticking with the Dohnes into the future and will hopefully increase our numbers," Mike said.
With such good results it is not hard to see why the Kerkmans are advocates for the Dohne breed.