DAIRY farmer Ross Woodhouse claims he became a sheep farmer and fine-wool grower "by accident" about 35 years ago.
But he started out with a good nucleus flock inherited from a neighbour.
The neighbour, an accountant, established the flock and Mr Woodhouse helped him with a comical first drenching, where neither particularly knew what to expect.
But after the first shearing, the accountant decided to get out of sheep.
Mr Woodhouse took over the flock and a lease block at Karridale that backed down to the Blackwood River.
"I knew nothing about sheep, but they were different to look at than cows, which was good, so I consulted people who did know about sheep and I learned from them," Mr Woodhouse said.
"There were others who helped me too, but Ron Niven (from The Grange Superfine Merino stud) was my mentor.
"Over the years we drove the micron down, but not at the expense of cut per head or the size of the sheep - they're got a good frame, they're a good size sheep.
"We also built our lambing rate up - it's about 95 per cent now."
Mr Woodhouse said he built his flock up to about 1500 sheep with an annual clip average of 17 microns by carefully choosing artificial insemination sire characteristics.
But in 2019 Mr Woodhouse was advised his sheep lease block would not be available into the future so he had to downsize his flock so it was not eating into his dairy feed base.
"I've still got 250 ewes," he said on Friday.
"The wool (sold last week) was from 500 sheep that were shorn in late 2019 before they were sold.
"We had planned to sell it in June or July last year, but then COVID hit and the bottom fell out of the market, so we hung onto it."
A four-bale lot of 16.3 micron Riverhaven fleece with core test statistics of 94 millimetre staple length, 37N/kt strength and yielding 74.2pc sold for the Western Wool Centre top price of last week of 2079c/kg greasy (2802c/kg clean).
A one-bale lot of 16 micron Riverhaven fleece at 71mm with 37Nkt and 65.9 yield, sold for 1992c/kg greasy (3023c/kg clean) for second top price and a five-bale Riverhaven lot of 17 micron, 94mm, 47N/kt fleece yielding 75.6pc, sold for 1960c/kg greasy (2593c/kg clean) as third top price.
On the same day at the Melbourne selling centre, a line of 12.8 micron wool sold for 8100c/kg greasy (10,398c/kg clean), the highest wool auction sale price in Australia for more than three years.
OFF TO A SOLID START IN WA
OPENING auctions of the 2021-22 Australian Wool Selling Program at the Western Wool Centre (WWC) last week got the new season away to a solid start.
A prices slide, which had wiped up to 59 cents off the per kilogram value of mid-micron Merino fleece in the final sales of the 2019-20 season the week before, was halted on the first trading day of the new season and turned around with small increases on the second.
But firming prices was the less notable aspect of the 2021-2022 season opening sales.
Most remarkable was the WA wool market joining Eastern States' markets in absorbing an enormous amount of wool.
In total 51,260 bales were on offer at live auctions around Australia last week, according to Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX).
This was the biggest national offering in more than a year and 66.3 per cent bigger than for the opening sales last season, technical officer Andrew Rickwood said in AWEX's weekly wool market report.
AWEX's main Melbourne wool selling centre had to trade an extra day to clear the volume.
At the WWC, brokers put up their largest catalogues in more than 12 months, with a total of 11,421 bales on offer.
Of those, 9721 were sold - giving auctioneers a strike rate of 85pc, quite remarkable given the volume of wool that buyers had available to choose from nationally.
To put the size of the WWC offering into perspective, in its fleece, skirtings and oddments catalogues last week, WA's largest wool broker, Nutrien Ag Solutions, put up a total of 4632 bales.
That was 723 bales, or 18.5pc, more on offer from one broker on the first trading day of the new selling season, than all brokers selling at the WWC combined had put up for auction in week 11 of the previous season - during last September when the COVID-19-impacted wool market was at its lowest.
The first day's offering of 6732 bales combined from Nutrien and Dyson Jones Wool Marketing Services, was larger than many of the WWC weekly offerings last season.
On the second day Elders, Australian Wool Holdings, Australian Wool Network, Westcoast Wool & Livestock and Wool Agency put up a further 5824 bales.
Throughout the previous season, offerings only exceeded 10,000 bales on seven of the 43 selling weeks at the WWC.
One of those occasions was a big final week with 11,291 - the only time last season the WWC weekly auction offering went beyond 11,000 bales.
The big WWC offering was what was left after woolgrowers and brokers - no doubt somewhat spooked by the huge volumes of wool listed for opening sales of the new season across the country - withdrew nine per cent.
By the first hammer fall at the WWC last week, 1135 bales listed in brokers' catalogues had been pulled from sale.
Dyson Jones State manager and director Peter Howie said based on past season starts, brokers and their clients had been expecting a bigger and better sale than the previous week.
"Buyers must have got on the phone and done some business over the weekend, because they certainly ramped it up," Mr Howie said after last week's sales.
"Demand was very, very good with most of it (wool) going to China.
"It seems a lot of woolgrowers wanted to get their clips into this season.
"It was a big offering, even for the first sale of the season, but we were happy with the level of support from buyers."
Mr Howie was not the only one to note woolgrowers' orders to brokers to sell their clips in the new financial year and Mr Rickwood also made mention of it in his market report.
Three lots in the Dyson Jones fleece catalogue which claimed the highest WWC prices for the week, were in that held-over category.
The three were under the Riverhaven stencil of Karridale and Scott River dairy and sheep farmer Ross Woodhouse.
Better known as WA's sometimes outspoken biggest milk volume dairy farmer, Mr Woodhouse also runs a Merino flock at Karridale and the wool sold last week was a 2019 clip held over.
Mr Woodhouse and his local Dyson Jones wool agent Paul Blight had been watching the market closely and deemed last week's sale as their best chance of getting best prices for a fine-wool clip.
The Western Indicator added 2c last week to finish at 1442c/kg, while the 19 and 19.5 micron price guides added 11c to 1766c/kg and 10c to 1606c/kg respectively for the season-opening week.
Despite small rises on the second trading day, the 18.5 and 20 micron guides failed to make up what they had shed on the first day and finished down 5c at 1922c/kg and down 9c at 1414c/kg for the week, while the 18 and 21 micron guides finished where they had started, at 2111c/kg and 1303c/kg.
Merino cardings was the biggest mover, but in opposing directions over the trading days, finishing down 1c at 975c/kg from its season-ending high of the past 12 months.
Local trader PJ Morris Wool and national trader Techwool Trading swapped top and second spots on the WWC's daily buyers' list last week and Tianyu Wool buyers, veteran Dave Cox and his protege Zena Wareham, who normally are more prominent in falling markets, were third on the buyers' list both days.
A promising sign for this week's WWC sales was the Melbourne market, trading alone last Thursday, continued to strengthen to the end, with finer micron price rises up to 20c and mid-micron rises up to 29c, despite the volume of wool traded on preceding days.
This week, the national offering is expected to again top 51,000 bales, ahead of the annual three-week wool auctions recess.
The WWC's share of that is expected to shrink back to 9883 bales - still huge when compared to the week-two WWC offering last season of just 4307 bales.
Buyers at the WWC will likely be under more pressure to complete orders this week than their Eastern States' counterparts, because after the annual recess, the WWC will host auctions for two weeks before another week with no sales.
In week eight, in August, the WWC will not trade so WA brokers and buyers have a chance to attend Wool Week in Melbourne.
The Melbourne and Sydney centres will trade as normal that week.
Under the Australian Wool Selling Program the WWC will trade for 42 weeks this season, one fewer than last season.