THE Brockman family is finding the right balance for its mixed enterprise operation at Kojonup.
David Brockman, alongside his wife Roxanne and their two children Oliver and Sari, is the fourth generation to farm the Kojonup property.
Though his parents are retired from farming, Mr Brockman said they were still very much involved, with his dad assisting with sheep feeding and checking the ewes during lambing.
"The sheep get used to being checked and it becomes a bit of a routine," Mr Brockman said.
The property is 1416 hectares (3500 acres) and runs 3600 Merino breeding ewes as well as 900 ewe hoggets.
In addition to the livestock enterprise, the Brockmans also run a cropping program for a 60:40 ratio.
The crops occupy 400ha and include canola, barley, wheat, oats and lupins.
Of that 100ha worth of grain is used as feed for the sheep.
They breed their own rams, buying in a stud sire every couple of years.
Over the years they have sourced their rams from various studs including a South Australian stud, Lukin Springs and the most recent were from Seymour Park.
Wanting to simplify their operation, the Brockmans decided to transition from SAMMs to 50pc Merino ewes crossed with White Suffolk terminals and 50pc purebred Merinos.
"We have stopped breeding replacements but we still have about 100 F1 SAMMs left," he said.
Changing from SAMMs means they no longer have to segregate their wool and also allows them to increase their stocking rate.
"The SAMMs used to eat down the pasture very quickly, whereas a mob of Merinos can stay in the same paddock for much longer."
With more of a focus on the meat side of the enterprise due to the soaring market prices, the main trait that they select for is frame.
"We like to have a good frame to support the White Suffolk prime lamb enterprise," Mr Brockman said.
The rams are put in with the ewes between Christmas and the new year, with lambing for the crossbreds beginning around the first of June and the Merinos starting to drop a month later from the first of July.
Mr Brockman said he had been gradually shifting lambing further back to be in line with the recommended timing.
"We drop the crossbreds a bit earlier so that we can still turn the bulk of them off as suckers and we drop the Merinos a bit later so that we can have a bit higher stocking rate," he said.
Another change the Brockmans have made is moving their shearing from spring to autumn as it means the ewes don't have to carry a full fleece going into lambing.
On average they cut 5kg per head with 19-micron wool.
With below-average winter rainfall over the past two years, Mr Brockman said many dams had dried up and they have had to decrease the number of sheep on the farm.
"We got 500mm last year and 400mm the year before," he said.
This meant water security was a challenge, so all the dams were cleaned out and the Brockmans had to pump underground water.
To help mitigate against having to cart water, Mr Brockman said he bought some cup and saucer tanks, but fortunately didn't have to use them so they will now be used in his feedlot.
He is hoping to start feedlotting some lambs for the first time this summer and will use his own grain.
"I have grown lupins for the first time so I am going to feedlot the lambs using our own rations," Mr Brockman said.
This season is looking promising having already received 270mm of their average annual rainfall of 530mm.
Ex-Tropical Cyclone Seroja delivered a large rainfall event recently which has seen the crops become well established early in the season.
"The dams are starting to fill back up, but because they were so empty they've got a fair way to go until they're full," he said.
They have increased the amount of cropping area but maintained the number of lambs being turned off despite reducing their flock numbers.
"We are running fewer sheep but we are improving our lambing percentage."
Ten years ago their lambing percentage was sitting about the 80pc mark but has now increased to more than 100pc.
Mr Brockman credits the Lifetime Ewe Management course and the increase in market prices with helping incentivise producers to look after their sheep better.
"It has been quite rewarding," he said.
The Brockmans also pregnancy scan for multiples, with about 40pc of their lambs being multiples.
When selling their sheep the majority are sold through WAMMCO abattoir, but they have also sold to other abattoirs including Hillside Meat Processors and Fletcher International Exports.
They also sold some of their Merino wethers to the Eastern States when there was large demand for sheep from producers over there.
"We trucked them over in summer," Mr Brockman said.
As for markets, he said on the wool side it was a tougher year in 2020 due to COVID-19 and they held their wool for six to eight months, waiting for the price to recover.
Luckily, this season has improved with prices better than last year.
"We sold really well and I was happy with the price," he said.
On the meat side the price has been consistently higher and is providing better returns compared to the wool.
"Meat can make up to $8kg," Mr Brockman said.
"I am going to produce as many crossbred lambs as I can and focus on finishing sheep with my feedlot to try and get those extra kilos."
In 2021 they cut 600 rolls of hay and have plenty left over, while the pastures consist of a mixture of clover and rye.
This year the rainfall has also meant that they have stopped supplement feeding which is unusual as they would usually feed for six months from January through to July.
"It is amazing because normally at this time of year is when we are feeding the most," Mr Brockman said.
To further improve the pasture growth they have been applying nitrogen and Flexi-N.
The Brockmans have also been deferring the paddocks at the break of the season and keeping the sheep on the stubbles for as long as possible.
Something Mr Brockman said was valuable, was keeping a record of the paddocks and their stocking rates over the years and their performance as this allows him to make a more informed decision at the start of each season.
"It's good to actually have some data to refer to," he said.
Boosting production has been a big focus particularly over the past two years and Mr Brockman said he has increased his inputs such as chemicals, fertiliser and drenches.
"You have to spend money to make money," he said.
As a result, on the cropping side they have experienced record yields, with each year improving on the previous season.
"I had a record crop year the year before last (2019) and then I had another record year (2020) and (2021) is looking like it may beat last year," he said.
The Brockmans are confident in the future of the sheep industry having reinvested in new shearing plants in the shearing shed and a new wool press.
"It can be a balancing act with cropping and stock, finding what is most profitable, but also what fits with your farm," Mr Brockman said.
"For us I think it's important to have a portion of sheep."