PUTTING their money on prime lamb, good farmland and family continues to pay handsome dividends for Kukerin/Tarin Rock farmers Colin and Ronni Joyce.
With son Kallan, his partner Cheryl Cavanagh and daughter Ashleigh, the Joyce family trading as 'Glenarsfield', Kukerin, pulled off one of WAMMCO's highest 'Sweet Spot" ratings of 99.23 per cent to win the co-operative's Producer of the Month title for October with a line of 260 Prime SAMM lambs that averaged 21.49 kilograms, returning $146.79 per head.
These lambs were June/July drop and were weaned just before processing on October 23.
The Joyce family attribute much of its success with sheep and its ability to capture consistently high returns, to a research paper written by their son Josh before he died from heart problems in 2011.
"Josh graduated from Muresk (Curtin) in 2006 and researched a sheep comparison in 2004 that clearly justified a switch from Merinos to Prime SAMMs," Col said.
"Wool prices were at unviable levels, there was increasing talk of bans on mulesing, and running Merinos was becoming increasingly difficult to fit with a 70:30 cropping/sheep regime managed at the time by only Josh and myself.
"Our first Prime SAMMs came from the Edwards family's Rockdale stud at Dumbleyung with rams since from the Taylor family's Tiarri stud at Lake Grace, and some very good Merino breeders to infuse some better wool quality and weight into our 2700 ewe breeding flock."
Col said the undeniable value of Prime SAMM over the Merino was indicated last year when a consignment of 298 7.5-year-old Prime SAMM ewes weighing an average of 34.55kg, sold over the hooks to WAMMCO at $3.80/kg - a return that was just over $38 per head more than achieved by a 10kg per head lighter, slightly smaller line of Merino ewes at the same price per kilogram.
"Add to that extra return of $38 per head the substantial value of 12 or so extra lambs delivered by the Prime SAMM ewes over seven years, and you can see how our breeders themselves complement the impressive returns we get from our lambs," he said.
Lambing percentages remain about 100pc in tougher years, going higher when conditions are favourable.
Frosts (including a crippling event in 2016) have become as prevalent as dry seasons, making sheep wool and lamb enterprises a critical offset in achieving business survival.
Pasture policy is to spread 100-150kg/hectare of S, Cu , Zn and Mo with between 100-150kg of 3:13, Pot and 2.4 tonnes of Lime/ha over most of the farm with the exception of high country,
"With only two of us full-time, we believe we are at capacity for an operation this size," Col said.
Having realised the incentive of owning property at an early age, Col used his shearing proceeds in the early days to buy more farmland, as well as taking over the original 404 hectare property at Kukerin from his father Kevin.
A process of accumulating, adapting and rationalising land has resulted in three separate holdings at North East Kukerin and Tarin Rock.
The Joyces see WAMMCO as an extension of their farm business, relying on supply development manager Rob Davidson for marketing and general advice.
They have already signed a WAMMCO minimum price guarantee contract at $7.40/kg to deliver 500 lambs to Katanning in the new year.
The family regards the recent opening of WAMMCO's new mutton processing facility at Katanning as probably one of the best WA meat industry decisions for some time.
"There is a lot of mutton in this area of WA and WAMMCO are on track to help us make the most of the very bright future for both mutton and lamb," Col said.
They also see the developing risk that Australia's red meat supply is already falling well short of demand, and that demand will continue to increase well ahead of supply, further threatening industry critical mass.
Col said Kal's decision to return to the farm in 2013, after leaving Aquinas College, qualifying and working in Perth as an electrician, and playing cricket in the United Kingdom for a year, had recharged their enthusiasm for the sheep and lamb-based family farming operation.
Kal has since introduced his English partner Cheryl Cavanagh to the family and she has proved a natural with sheep, as well as working in administration with the Lake Grace Shire.
When Col and Ronni's daughter Ashleigh comes home from her job as a project manager and senior consultant to BHP to help with seeding, harvesting or the sheep, the family unit is complete.
Independence and self-sufficiency for Col started when he left school for the family farm at Kukerin, but he was out shearing at the age of 16 to supplement a farm wage of $35 a week.
Wife Ronni stands out as one of the longest-serving nurses at the Lake Grace hospital. She has since retired to concentrate on the farm office.