WHEN growing up Jamie Anderson never imagined he would be running a Merino enterprise with his parents at Williams when he graduated from Hale School, but 20 years on he wouldn't change a thing.
Like a lot of city kids with family in the country, Jamie spent time at his cousins' farm at Broomehill during the school holidays and enjoyed it.
But it never crossed his mind that one day he would be running his own property with his father Alex being a third-generation builder by trade and his mother Sandra was a nurse in Perth
"I never really thought I would have a chance to work a property for a living back then, but little did I know dad had been looking around for a property to buy," Jamie said.
"He was keen to get a property again after having an interest in farming with other family members back in the 1970s and 80s."
For 12 years from the mid 1970s Alex had a half share in 1012 hectares (2500 acres) at York with his brother-in-law where they ran mainly sheep and before that he had a small block at Gidgegannup with his father in the 1960s.
"I think dad always had a passion to have his own farm, so he was always looking around but I never really knew about it," Jamie said.
"He had looked at a number of properties before we finally bought this 2145ha (5300 acre) property at Williams at the end of 1997."
Initially the family leased out the property for four years while Jamie finished school and they put a plan together of what they wanted to do with their new asset.
Jamie said he moved to Williams in 2000 - the year after he left school and started his steep learning curve.
"When I started I was pretty green but I have learnt plenty along the way," he said.
"I learnt to ask a lot of questions and certainly got plenty of advice from the locals when I was at the pub or at football or cricket.
"We got our first Merinos in 2002 and started to build our enterprise from then."
But it hasn't been all smooth sailing for the Anderson family during this time with Jamie suffering a serious injury while playing football in 2015 and his dad also undergoing a major operation at the same time.
Jamie suffered a knee to the neck when he was on the ground over the ball and as a result he was diagnosed with incomplete quadriplegia at the C2/C3, plus he had a stroke in the cerebellum.
The doctors told Jamie's family he was very lucky and his prognosis could have been a lot worse as he was only 3mm away from being on a ventilator.
He spent three weeks in ICU at Royal Perth Hospital and 11 weeks in the spinal rehabilitation unit at Fiona Stanley Hospital.
After being discharged Jamie underwent a further three months of outpatient therapy and rehabilitation in Perth.
The entire time he was in hospital he had a desire to get back to the farm.
"In rehab I kept thinking about getting back to the farm and that was certainly a big driving factor when I was in rehab," Jamie said.
As a result of the accident he has ended up with restricted movement on his right side, as well as a lack of strength and co-ordination.
He eventually returned to the farm in April 2016.
"I thought when I got back I would be able to cope and do what I used to do but it wasn't the case," Jamie said.
"As a result of not being able to do what I had done in the past, I struggled mentally which made it not only hard on me, but also my family."
To complicate things further for the family, just two weeks after Jamie had his accident, his dad had cervical fusion surgery to alleviate pressure on his spinal cord and that didn't go to plan.
The two incidents combined put extreme pressure on Jamie's mum and the farming operation.
The family could have easily thrown in the towel and sold the farm.
But a love of the land and farming meant they didn't - instead they stepped away for three years to recover both physically and mentally.
"I remember mum ringing towards the end of 2016 and saying we were going to lease the farm," Jamie said.
"I wasn't happy about it at the time but I think back now it was probably the best decision we could have made as it has allowed me to fully accept what I can and can't do.
"I have accepted that I will never be able to do what I used to and that is still hard sometimes, but I am really excited to be back running the farm now.
"I am determined to make it work as I love the rewards you get from farming and that is not just the monetary ones.
"If I wasn't able to be back here, I don't know what else I would be doing.
"I just really love being in the country and the rewards you get from producing a quality Merino or growing a good crop."
The Andersons officially took back the property in January this year and employed a manager, Mitchell Johnston, to help out with the physical side that Jamie and his dad can no longer do.
While being physically restricted Jamie knows what he wants to achieve with the property and their Merino flock going forward.
"Even while we were leasing the farm I did still keep an eye on the management and the breeding decisions of our Merino flock as I knew we would be taking it back at the end of the lease," Jamie said.
The Anderson's Merino enterprise represents about 70 per cent of their operation and both Jamie and his dad like it that way.
Jamie said he really enjoyed the sheep side of the enterprise.
"I get a good feeling out of seeing something born that you then grow out and manage before sale," he said.
"I certainly like the management side of our Merino enterprise and trying to do the best practices in terms of feed management and animal husbandry possible to produce a quality product for sale.
"I find it more rewarding than growing a good crop."
Merinos have been the breed of choice for the Anderson family from when they first started their sheep flock.
Jamie said they went down the Merino path because basically it was the main breed in the State and there appeared to be good demand for them.
"Since we started with them (Merino), we have never had any thoughts of moving away from them, as there are plenty of positives to the breed," Jamie said.
"The biggest bonus I believe is their dual-purpose nature and that you can produce a good fibre and meat product from them.
"On the wool side they tick the boxes consumers are looking for these days when it comes to clean and green.
"With a Merino you can grow a clean, green, natural fibre which many consumers are demanding more and more these days.
"I think the demand for natural products is going to only grow more and more in the future, so it is great the Merino can deliver on this front when it comes to the wool side and it is a real advantage for the breed.
"They are also good mothers, so that is another bonus."
When the Andersons first started their Merino flock in 2002 they bought in a number of ewes based on different bloodlines, but now their flock is based on genetics from the Navanvale stud, Williams, where they have been buying their rams for the past eight years.
When selecting the Navanvale rams Jamie has no preference for horned or polled sires and usually ends up with more Merinos just because there is more to choose from.
"I like either, as long as they have the characteristics we want for our breeding program," Jamie said.
"I want rams with good body size and structure, an open head and good sound wool.
"I usually like their wool about the 20 to 21 micron mark."
Jamie said their aim was to breed a medium-framed Merino with a good constitution, structure and bone to handle the environment.
"On the wool side we want good cutting ability and we are looking for a wool with good style and handle that can stand up to our rainfall," he said.
Currently they are running 4000 ewes and mate annually about 2800 head to Merino rams and 1200 to White Suffolk sires.
The rams go out with the ewes at 2.25pc in early December for two cycles for lambing to start in early May.
But this program may change in the future with Jamie keen to push lambing back to a more natural time when the ewe's highest feed demands are inline with better feed availability.
"I think we will probably push lambing back so the ewes can lamb onto established pastures," Jamie said.
"It also might mean we lock the ewes up and confinement feed them prior to lambing to let the pastures get away as well."
In terms of a lambing percentage before they leased out the farm, they were achieving more than 100pc and they were happy with that, but now Jamie is hoping to push it beyond the 110pc mark in the future.
Pregnancy scanning is considered an important management tool by the Andersons, not only for keeping the fertility of their flock up but also for the management of their twin bearing ewes.
Jamie said they had been pregnancy scanning since the very beginning and it not only allowed them to identify their dry ewes which were sold straight away, but also separate their single and twin bearing ewes.
"We have been separating our twin and single lambers for the past eight years, as it allows us to run our twin bearers in smaller mobs and look after them better feed wise.
"We have definitely seen the benefits of doing it, as they get that extra bit of feed and with a smaller mob there is less mothering issues.
"Normally we trail feed our ewes but this year we invested in lick-feeders and put the twinning ewes on them.
"We were pretty happy with how that went, it just meant they could be a little bit more content and they always had access to something to nibble on."
The Andersons wean their lambs in mid-August on the best possible pastures and Jamie said this timing meant the late lambs were big enough to handle being taken off their mothers.
In general they run the majority of their Merino ewe progeny through to hogget age and class them annually in August in full wool with the assistance of Nutrien Livestock Breeding representative Mitchell Crosby.
"We look for a good structure, especially in terms of feet and legs while their wools have to be white with good style and crimp definition," Jamie said.
At present they don't have any wethers on the property as last year's drop were sold as lambs, but going forward Jamie said he would be keen to run a portion of their Merino wether drop through each year and get a second clip off them.
"I think we will probably end up selling half our wethers as lambs and run the rest through, but at the end of the day it would probably depend on what the season and market is doing," Jamie said.
Prior to leasing the farm, August was a busy time for the Andersons, as they were not only weaning their lambs but they were also shearing, but now they have switched to an eight-month shearing program.
Jamie said it was something they were thinking about doing before they leased out the farm.
"We are seeing how that goes," Jamie said.
"Hopefully it will increase our wool cut and it will also be better from an animal husbandry point of view.
"It will also allow us to keep our wool in the length range of 70 to 90 millimetres that the buyers are chasing."
On the figures side, the Anderson's flock averages between 20-21 micron with about a 5.5-6kg wool cut.
Along with enjoying the benefits of growing out a Merino, the Andersons are also happy with the financial rewards the Merinos have delivered in recent times.
Jamie said it had been a while coming for both the wool and sheepmeat markets to find some footings in terms of price.
"The markets we have at the moment are really pleasing to see, even though wool can still be a little bit uncertain," he said.
"Prior to COVID-19 the wool market had been looking good, even though it was down slightly on the market peak in February/March 2019.
"I was really looking forward to this year, shearing and getting a good wool cheque after missing out the previous few years when we were leasing.
"The wool market at the moment is disappointing but I believe the outlook for wool is positive and I think the market will rebound after COVID-19, it will just depend how long its impact drags on for."
When it comes to sheep prices Jamie said they were very strong and encouraging.
"We sold all our dry ewes in March through the yards at Katanning and averaged $170 a head," Jamie said.
"We were stoked with the prices back then and the market hasn't really fallen away since.
"The price was certainly better than what we were getting prior to leasing the farm out.
"From what I have been told these strong sheep prices for mutton and lamb are going to be around for a while as there are no numbers in the system."
While the Anderson's sheep enterprise is their main focus, they still undertake an annual cropping program which sees them sow between 600 to 700ha to oats, barley and canola.
Jamie said generally they kept a portion of their barley for feed and mixed it with lupins they buy in as part of their supplementary feeding program.
Presently their feeding program revolves mainly around trail feeding both their ewes and lambs once paddock feed is no longer adequate, but this year in the autumn they did confinement feed their 1000 ewe hoggets.
"We ran them in two mobs of 500 head in small holding paddocks and trail fed them for five to six weeks," Jamie said.
"It worked really well and I was pretty happy with the way they came out.
"There was a definite improvement in their condition (weight) from when they went in.
"Obviously there are some real benefits to it, because in larger paddocks and with the way sheep graze, it does take a bit off them."
So with the positive results achieved with their ewe hoggets, Jamie said he would consider more confinement feeding in the future and set up a purpose-built area for it.
"Once you have that purpose built area set up, we will be able to use it whenever we want," he said.
"I think firstly we will look at confinement feeding our ewes prior to lambing to ensure they are getting what they need in their last trimester and it will also allow the pastures to get away a bit more.
"We could also put the lambs into it after weaning or once the feed dries off or when we feel they need a bit more feed.
"I think it could really add to our operation and lift the productivity of our sheep."
So what does the future look like for the Anderson's operation?
One thing Jamie is keen to look into and learn more about is regenerative agriculture as he believes it will be a major player in the industry in the future.
"I am keen to learn more about it and implement some of the ideas into our enterprise," Jamie said.
But one thing for sure is their Merinos will certainly be part of any new approach.
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