The sound of shears and the sight of freshly shorn sheep in the paddock is an unusal sight in the lower Hunter region.
However, one farmer has bucked tradition and taken a punt on going into not just sheep, but wool.
In March 2018, Murray and Deborah Schaefer purchased the 366 hectare property at Dungog. This was not far from their existing property Portree Plains at Nelsons Plains.
The Dungog property was infested with fireweed, and so to combat the problem, and as store sheep were comparatively cheap, the Schaefers decided to purchase 937 eight-month-old March/April shorn Merino wether lambs at $60 a head last May.
“The lambs were picked up on AuctionsPlus and were July to September 2017-drop and of Egelabra and Centre Plus bloodlines,” he said.
Greg Lidbury from Bowe and Lidbury Pty Ltd, agents at Maitland saleyards, said he has lived in the area since he was born and there has not been many sheep at all.
“Because it is a higher rainfall area, it has never been classed as a sheep area. It is predominately cattle country,” Mr Lidbury said.
“It is great to see people try new things that others say you won’t work.”
Mr Schaefer said they bought classed out sheep as they were aware of the potential of dog problems in the area, and with the assistant of the Hunter Local Land Services they boundary baited and bought alpacas.
“We kept them on because they were doing well. We bought them back to our other property to shear. There was 930 head so loses were minimal,” Mr Schaefer said.
With 500 feeders steers already running on the Schaefer’s 231ha property at Nelsons Plains, so accommodating for the wethers was simple with only a couple of extra wires to be added to fences and gravel put around troughs to ensure the sheep could reach water.
They invested $10,000 in materials and labour to transform a section of a machinery shed into a two-stand raised board shearing set-up with grating and the ability to hold two runs. “Most of the shearing facility can be dismantled after shearing, and an adjoining hay shed was cleaned out to give dry storage for the two days of shearing,” he said.
Shearing took place before Christmas with Mr Schaefer admitting the sheep were a bonus this year, but not something that farms in the area could do every year or over the winter period.
“Running wethers only works in drier years, with this year’s rainfall only being about 80 per cent of the normal average annual rainfall, so 30 inches year-to-date (762 millimetres) compared to a 40 inch (1016mm) average rainfall,” he said.
“The dry year here has helped ensure there was no parasite or feet problems, and only one with weather-stained wool.”
Family affair for first Portree Plains shearing
Shearing is often a family affair, and that it was for Murray and Deborah Schaefer who had three generations on the job during the shearing of 930 Merino wethers at Portree Plains, Nelson Plains, before Christmas – a possible first for the area that is well-known to be predominately cattle-country.
Murray Schaefer’s son Michael Schaefer is a full-time shearer based at Louth, who along with Kirk Jones, did the shearing. Michael also crutched, drenched and gave a Clik application in October.
Joinging them in the two-stand shearing shed they constructed in the corner of a machinery shed was Murray’s brother Greg, Ellandonah, Walcha, and grandson Mathew Schaefer, Tweed Heads, and James Browning, Manilla.
Murray Schaefer said since purchasing the Merinos wether lambs for $60 a head off AuctionsPlus in May, they have doubled in weight while controlling the fireweed problem on their Dungog property.
“They probably owe us $80/hd by the time we are finished with them, but hopefully they have cut about $50/hd worth of wool,” Mr Schaefer said.
“We often get a autumn break in March so we will aim to get out of them in February.”
Mr Schaefer said they could go to a restocker, but our agency seems to think they will be worth more to go to Tamworth abattoirs.
“By February the hoggets should dress around 25 kilograms and return $100/hd,” he said.