Known for producing quality Angus sires and taking over the Ardcairnie Angus stud three years ago, Joe and Jess Dewar are proving that incorporating a commercial Merino flock can be a productive and worthwhile choice for producers.
Mr Dewar said the complementary pairing of stud and commercial cattle, along with incorporating Merinos into the business, seemed to be the way to go in terms of providing an extra income that required minimal maintenance.
Joining the pair full-time at the farm is his father Frank and sister Annabel, in the entirely family-run business.
The 12,141-hectare property is stretched along the Indian Ocean coastline just north of Guilderton - although, the Gingin region has been home for the Dewar family dating back to the 1840s.
With cattle always being the mainstay for the family, sheep have become more prominent in the past 40 years.
"We had to sell-off a lot of our Merinos to accommodate the stud cattle, but we didn't get rid of them altogether," Mr Dewar said.
Fast forward three years, the Dewar family has successfully completed its second annual bull sale and comfortably runs 600 Merino ewes and 600 wethers, with offspring, alongside their cattle.
Inside the gates of Lime Peaks Grazing, the sheep are run in paddocks with the cattle, in mobs ranging from 150 to 250 head.
The low maintenance take on grazing sheep has been a very cost-effective decision that has had a great benefit on the business.
"I think having small mobs of ewes in with the cattle works really well," Mr Dewar said.
"Sometimes sheep are seen as really high maintenance, but they are only as much work as you make them.
"If you pick your genetics right and adapt a few things around your production system, it can work.
"At our property, they complement the stud - and they eat the feed that the cows leave behind."
At Lime Peaks, blue lupins grow like wildfire during the summer months, providing a great source of sheep feed, as well as grass in the winter months.
"This means we never have to buy feed for the sheep, and we get wool from them every year, meaning we are making a profit," Mr Dewar said.
Although a low maintenance mindset is the main focus, the Dewars also see clean white wool, a smooth body and an animal that can carry weight for meat value as being desirable traits.
"We used to buy-in Merino ewes and join them with prime lamb sires," Mr Dewar said.
"Due to us buying other people's culls, like you do with any livestock, we weren't achieving the type of ewes that we wanted."
Seven years ago, the Dewars switched to retaining the ewe offspring and joining their own progeny using prime lamb sires.
"We started noticing the offspring getting better every year, so, we decided to start breeding the ewes to Merino rams," Mr Dewar said.
"Now we breed mostly straight Merinos and join a handful of the ewes to a prime lamb sire.
"Breeding is really enjoyable for us and, although breeding cattle is what we do, we also enjoy getting our sheep to where they want to be too.
"Purchasing top-quality sires from the Parakeelya Poll Merino stud, Beacon, has helped produce better replacement ewes.
The sire battery comprises 12 Poll Merino rams and five prime lamb sires that were specifically selected based on visual appraisal and Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBV).
"When selecting rams, we want to make sure that they have a decent frame, they are not too narrow and with nice white wool," Mr Dewar said.
"Good staple length is also a big thing, and we aim for about 19-micron in fibre diameter.
"At the end of November each year, the rams are put out with the ewes for a two-month breeding cycle at a 2 per cent joining rate.
"This period allows for the rams to cover the majority of the breeding stock.
"Having the rams out for a longer period ensures the ewes have a better chance of becoming pregnant, due to the size of our paddocks."
Mr Dewar said they expected lambs to be dropping from late April/early May, through to June and had been experiencing just under 100pc lambing rates in the past few years.
The low maintenance, high production outlook carries over to the post-lambing animal husbandry practices in July, once all the ewes have lambed.
"We mark all of the lambs in July once we notice that the majority of the lambs have hit the ground and they will receive a B12 and an Ultravac 5in1 vaccination," Mr Dewar said.
"All of the lambs are also tailed, mulesed and castrated at marking too.
"It's more efficient doing it all at once rather than doing it at shearing."
With a more passionate wool-based approach, Mr Dewar said they have held onto the wethers they would have usually sent to sale due to an increase in their wool cut.
"Wool is such a great product, for the environment and the consumer," he said.
"There are so many unique attributes that you can't get from any other fibre, plus it grows back every year.
"That's why it seems silly to get rid of them.
Although wool is the main driver of keeping the Merinos around, the breed's dual-purpose traits means an additional marketing opportunity.
"It's good to have two marketing options due to how volatile the market can be," Mr Dewar said.
"It doesn't cost us to hold them here, it's great that we can keep our ewes and wethers, including their offspring, and keep making a profit from shearing them."
An eight-month shearing cycle ensures the problems they have had with flystrike in the past are no longer present.
"In order to be able to do this, we have had to select rams with a longer staple length," Mr Dewar said.
"Shearing every eight months means the sheep are only at the full wool growth stage for a short period.
"In the previous annual shearing cycle, the sheep were at full wool growth stage for four months, making them more susceptible to flystrike for a longer period.
"This way, they are reaching maximum wool growth and we are shearing them as soon as they reach that stage.
"So, it doesn't give the flies much of a chance to affect them.
"We also treat for lice every eight months at shearing -rather than once a year.
"They stay cleaner and have less mid break in their wool this way.
"We have also been able to increase our wool clip, going from 4.2 kilograms per head to 6kg, annually."
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