A TRADITIONAL family faith in Merinos and crossbred lambs has resulted in 'bonus time' for young Esperance couple Jon and Sarah Knox, of Wittenoom Plains, at Neridup.
A consignment of 231 White Suffolk-Merino and Poll Dorset-Merino lambs was processed at Katanning on November 11 to win WAMMCO's Producer of the Month title for the family on an average weight of 21.15 kilograms, returning $144.25 per lamb including skins.
An impressive 97.84 per cent of the draft met the co-operative's tight marketing criteria for top lambs.
Jon and Sarah took control of Wittenoom Plains six years ago from Jon's parents Andrew and Janet Knox in a succession that involved trimming some land from the family holding at Neridup so that their parents could avoid retirement with the purchase of another property at Hyden.
"Dad wanted to get away from machinery and to spend more time repeating the sheep production formula involving Merino ewes with Poll Dorset and White Suffolk genetics, that has worked so well for us at Esperance," Jon said.
"We have successfully integrated similar percentages of sheep, Angus cattle and cropping for more than 40 years and were early supporters of crossbred lambs in the recovery from ruinous wool and meat prices.
"Today the mix is 1300 hectares of crop and 700ha of pasture for 1000 Merino ewes and 70 Angus cattle, but we are looking to adjust the cattle numbers in favour of sheep because of the impressive comparative returns.
"I am happy to buy in Merino ewes and aim to bulk up every three years or so, depending on seasons.
"The longest I have kept a ewe is eight years, the shortest is five years.
"We don't deliberately aim for high stocking or high fertility because our emphasis is on ease of management.
"With this year's poor season we still averaged better than 86pc lambs marked."
A mob of 500 crossbred lambs was last week thriving on barley stubbles and was expected to easily reach minimum liveweight of 46kg when processed at Katanning in the new year.
Jon said receiving only 275 millimetres of rain for the year had added pressure on management and justified the use of lick feeders with a mix of barley and 10pc lupins to keep stock off the pasture through to August.
Lambs are weaned onto the best green pasture paddocks and have averaged about 250 grams gain per day.
Selenium is deficient on the sandplain country and is administered through drench at weaning and also later added to fertiliser to coincide with lamb marking.
Dam water supplies had held well despite the dry season that had caused serious water shortages for others.
The good summer rains of recent years that encouraged many Esperance farmers to grow summer cash crops had also expired over the past two or three years.
The Knox family's business is a follower of the ASHEEP group in Esperance and has trialled various pasture species in a quest for improvement.
Jon is happy with an increasing percentage of serradella in the pasture mix.
The couple and their children Brayden (three), Alex (five) and Danielle (eight), are pleased to be part of a strong, vibrant young community in the Neridup area.
"We are keen to contribute and to capitalise on the increasing value of land in the area," Jon said.
"I think the lamb producers among us and some who may wish to become producers - would join any initiatives by WAMMCO or industry to widen our skills and knowledge.
"The reversion of bluegum and pine plantations to productive farming typifies the changes taking place in this region."
Jon's nanna, Christina Knox was also recognised as a serious local contributor - as founder of Esperance Eggs - a business that is no longer in the family but is still running and employing locals.
Jon and Sarah also employ local casuals Rod Cannon and harvest casual, WA College of Agriculture, Harvey, graduate Nic Dilley, as well as retired farmer Rob Agnew, shearer Noel Smith and truckie Peter Holdman to keep the flock healthy, seed-free and on the move.
Local Primaries livestock agent Tony Douglass is also integral to the family's sheep and cattle operations, assisting Jon with weighing, drafting, booking lambs six months out, and co-ordinating transport.