ARMED with a microscope in the laundry - which serves as a makeshift laboratory - Kojonup sheep farmer Emily Stretch can often be found faecal egg counting.
It is a practice that may not be for everyone, but when you are running an entirely non-mulesed flock it is quick, easy and important in reducing worm and fly issues.
"Mum and I do all of our own worm egg counts about every two months," Ms Stretch said.
"We mix up the poo in a saline solution and look at it through a microscope.
"We generally do mob samples - usually 20 from each mob.
"Sometimes you can use an indicator mob to see if the rest might be spiking, but other times you need to check every single mob."
Ms Stretch farms at her family's Wandoora property and runs anywhere between 10,000 and 18,000 Merinos - of Westerdale and Anderson Rams bloodlines - in any year.
She returned to the farm full-time in 2014, after spending five years dabbling in different ag-related jobs.
Her parents Digby and Nikki opted to stop mulesing in 2007.
"I have never met a farmer who enjoys mulesing, so there was that element," Ms Stretch said.
"But there was also discussion among animal activist groups that it was 'not an acceptable practice' and it became apparent that one stroke of a pen could make it illegal.
"My parents decided we should be on the front foot."
The family went into non-mulesing "cold turkey" and has not looked back since.
After just 12 months they were convinced they had made the right decision.
Ms Stretch admitted the transition was made difficult by not putting in the genetic work first.
"Keeping something that has wrinkle through the tail clean of dags and making them easy to crutch and shear is hard work," she said.
"However, we were fast to learn and now everything we choose out of the ram shed is completely different to what we used to choose.
"We look for the faecal egg count to be as negative as possible, the dag score to be as low as possible and the wool traits to remain stable.
"The biggest thing we have found is that if you can keep them clean of dags and stain, it makes life much easier."
Poll Dorset rams were introduced to the flock when the Stretch family stopped mulesing, to breed lambs from the more heavily skinned ewes.
The last of the Poll Dorset rams were sold in 2021 and the last of the first-cross lambs will be sold in coming months.
Multi-Purpose Merinos have since been found to do the same job and give the farming operation a full Merino wool clip.
Ms Stretch works hard to reduce any of the breech wrinkle in the flock.
She said a "little bit of body wrinkle" in young sheep was acceptable as long as it moved freely over the body.
"As long as it is not the kind of wrinkle that doesn't move when shearing," Ms Stretch said.
"We don't want these selections to reduce our wool cut or broaden the micron."
For Ms Stretch, staying on top of worm and nutrition management has improved the "sheep job" onfarm as a whole.
By doing so she has been able to keep the flock's condition score in the right spot, all year.
It has also helped to reduce labour - in drenching - and ultimately the bottomline of farm input costs.
"We do a lot more preventative worm strategies now, compared to drenching when things are symptomatic," Ms Stretch said.
"So we intervene before they become clinically ill.
"If you can intervene with weaners and hoggets before they get to a point where it starts impacting their growth then it is beneficial for them."
This year's wool cut was particularly good, with the adult sheep producing 327 bales.
Micron blew out slightly from 18.5 to 19.5 given the growing year, but the kilograms per head more than made up for it.
The average kg/head was 6.6kg across 10 month shearing of hogget, ewe and wether flocks.
"The average wool cut was through the roof," Ms Stretch said.
"Wethers were cutting 8kg/head on average and ewes all did 6kg plus.
"I think we would have been up by at least a kilogram across everything.
"I haven't seen a wool growing season like this since returning home full-time in 2014."
One of the challenges of the heavier rainfall was a high fly load through spring, which resulted in a heavier colour line and shoulder strike.
Ms Stretch hadn't experienced shoulder strike onfarm in the wool Merino line before.
However, she said it was something she was able to learn and grow from.
Adults are usually shorn in February, right before their joining date on Valentine's Day.
Joining was pushed out by a week this year, off the back of a delayed harvest and shearing contractors having to tackle COVID and labour shortages.
Ewes and rams are joined for five weeks, ewes are then preg scanned in May and lambs start to hit the ground in mid-July through to August.
In 2010, while Ms Stretch was home for a gap year after high school, her father told her she could receive a bonus for improving the lambing percentage.
And despite the fact wool genetics are not always highly linked to fertility, she has been able to slowly do so since.
Over the past two years she has recorded lambing percentages of more than 90pc off joining and 120-130pc off scanning.
"Translating all of those genetics onto the ground in the freezing cold, middle of August is hardwork with our wool genetics," Ms Stretch said.
"They are small lambs and they don't have a lot of fat reserves.
"That's partly why we are using the other line of Merinos and are seeing what we can improve, how we can do it, if we can inject some of the lambing resilience and worm resistance - all of those little things."
Twin mobs and wool genetic lines are given preference for the best sheltered paddocks in a bid to increase survival rates.
"Last year singles did 80-85pc off scanned instead of 95pc and the multiples still pulled over 115pc," Ms Stretch said.
"I place that pretty much solely at the shelter options given the winter we had."
Crutching and lamb marking at the property starts in September.
Most of the lamb marking is done by the family, as they do their genetic selection on the cradle as lambs.
Weaning starts in November onto 75-100 hectares of oats in multiple paddocks, which haven't been harvested.
If the oat paddocks aren't ready, kikuyu paddocks are used instead and are also used to rotate weaners in-and-out, so a Vitamin E drench isn't needed.
Ms Stretch said weaning onto oats made it easier at harvest because the animals required less supplementary feeding and instead just a weekly top up with lupins.
"Once they are two to three weeks into the oats and are acclimatised I would start spreading 50 grams of lupins per head, per day," she said.
"And I take that up by anywhere between 10 and 25 grams every two or three weeks.
"The oats alone aren't enough protein for muscle growth, so we add the lupins in to supplement the protein."
When the oat paddocks start running out of feed, Ms Stretch supplements some cereal grains or extra oats.
She also uses a deferred grazing program, as opposed to confinement feeding.
"I choose one of the cropping paddocks, which will go into oats last in the seeding program, and jam as many sheep in as I can.
"The longer I can have a paddock green, without any sheep on it - the more worms will die off it.
"The more worms I can kill - because there's nothing eating them and they aren't breeding again - the better."
As well as wool, sheep are sold for meat whether it be via live export or through the local abattoir gates.
What market they are sold into depends on what feed is available onfarm and whether or not lambs can be carried on through.
Money also plays a factor.
"Lambs will go through any market we need them to," Ms Stretch said.
"We have wethers that go for live export or if the local markets continue as they have been they will go for mutton.
"It depends where the money is for us, given there is very little opportunity to forward contract."
Outside of running a successful commercial sheep farming business, Ms Stretch also prides herself as a livestock leader, courtesy of The Livestock Collective training.
She believes such groups are important in providing a collective wealth of information to the wider community.
"Be it teachers, journalists or politicians - we can direct people to that one hub for a source of information.
"And we know that is based on farmer knowledge, how we handle animals and what we do with them.
"I also think it is important for those of us who work with animals to own the fact we do, and that we do it well."
Ms Stretch also uses social media as a form of education and bridging the city-country gap.
She does so by uploading videos and pictures of her daily activities, which generates questions from her followers including: "What are you doing?" and "Why are you doing that?"
Other times they suggest alternative ways of doing certain duties.
"I am soaking up knowledge from whomever and wherever I can and that is not necessarily mainstream education," Ms Stretch said.
"I enjoy learning tips and tricks.
"While sometimes the job is challenging because nothing is ever the same, it is also liberating because nothing is ever the same.
"You never get bored."
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