Risky move from wool to meat pays off in drought for Longreach sheep-farming family

Risky move from wool to meat pays off in drought for Longreach sheep-farming family

A controversial move from wool to meat sheep is paying off for a western Queensland family.

The area has long been renowned for its wool production but in recent years sheep numbers have dropped as drought and wild dogs took a hold on the west.

Exclusion fencing in recent years have proven to be a game changer, with producers able to get back into sheep.

While Merinos still rule the west, there are some graziers who have looked to take advantage of recent meat sheep prices.

Diversification in drought key

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David and Claire Paterson from Arrowfield Station, south of Longreach, had to destock their property three years ago due to drought.

They are now back in action with a Dorper sheep flock and a whole lot of exclusion fencing.

The Dorper is a fast-growing meat-producing sheep originally from South Africa and although primarily a mutton sheep they are now commonly produced for the lamb market.

“The decision was made on the basis the wool industry was just poking along and that stage not much had changed,” Mr Paterson said.

“We were also having to buy lots of cottonseed every year, to get sheep through the last half of the year to keep them in good order.

In a region where producing meat sheep is not common, the Patersons are proving that the change to Dorpers was a worthwhile choice, despite some controversy.

Lamb prices remain strong

Merino wool can be contaminated by other types of wool, and they cannot come in contact with any other sheep.

With neighbours still running Merino herds, the Patersons have ensured their exclusion fencing is especially secure to ensure this does not happen.

“Dorper sheep shed a hair and that hair can contaminate merino sheep wool and that then downgrades their wool,” Mrs Paterson said.

“So it’s very important to isolate your sheep from the Merinos around you to keep good relationships all round and also keep our sheep in and stops us from having to contain them otherwise.”

With lamb prices remaining strong it means the Patersons have been able to continue producing sheep even through the relentless ongoing drought across western Queensland.

Mrs Paterson said she has noticed the Dorpers are particularly good mothers.

She has seen ewes feed triplets and quads through the poor seasons successfully.

“They hold their condition long after many other sheep fall away, they’re in good order and very hardy sheep and well suited to a dry-ish climate,” said Mrs Paterson.

The Patersons said the Dorpers’ strong resistance to drought was the key to keeping their business sustainable.

Arrowfield is a family operation where all four of their children are involved in the running of the property.

The future

Daughter Annabelle is a Year 11 student at boarding school, but spends her school holidays at home working alongside her siblings and parents.

Despite the extended drought and the hardship she has seen her family go through, Annabelle said she is keen to go back into the industry once she finishes school.

“I reckon it’s pretty good to keep going and do what Mum and Dad are doing, and make it bigger and better I suppose.

“You just have to keep going, as a family I think we do pretty well, we keep each other motivated and keep working and get through the tough times and get to the better times.”

CREDIT: abc.net.au