Fifth and sixth generation wool producers David and Angie Waters, Tarrangower Merinos, have survived seven years of below normal rainfall at Hillgrove east of Armidale.
The Waters have been able to retain the integrity of their super fine Merino flock, selecting genetics for what they feel is the right type of bright and stylish spinners' type fleece.
However they have drastically reduced the stocking rate on their property Eastview by 50 per cent, selling their Charolias cross beef breeding and prime lamb enterprises, plus some surplus merinos.
"Our future is in wool," David says. "By retaining as many ewes as possible it will see us rebuild more quickly when this is over."
The reduction has not come at a cost to quality. If anything consistency is improving all the time - just ask Paolo Zegna, president of the Ermenegildo Zegna group and manufacturers of fine Italian wool fashion.
Last week the family, which includes daughters, Sarah and Bella, were awarded first place in the Zegna competition for the third year in a row.
Tarrangower's winning bale from their commercial mob recorded a micron average of 15.2, with 74.8 yield, a tensile strength of 53 with an 82mm staple length.
For the first time 70 specialty wool wethers have been retained for their ability to produce the stylish wool Zegna desires.
"We have a passion for this," explains Angie. "We know what we want and we want to retain those characteristics."
Normally reliable summer rainfall in the New England, which contributes to a sound clip, failed the district badly last year so the win comes as something of a surprise - until you look deeper into the family's management practices.
"Despite drought our flock is fit and healthy," says David. "While there is a green pick and still some paddock roughage at the moment, it is expected that the bulk of energy and protein requirements will come from barley and faba beans as we approach winter."
"We are in survival mode," explains Angie, whose parents Don and Fay Tully used to trade under the Tarrangower banner some 15 years ago with bloodlines going back 100 years - as long as the Zegna brand.
David, whose grandfather purchased the Hillgrove property in 1949 and whose father Noel recalls the 1965 drought as being worse, admits the family started that previous drought with more than three times the number of stock. However, this current crisis is not over yet.
Lifetime ewe management critical
Tarrangower's greatest game changer has arrived in the form of a free app for the phone which has smartened the use of supplementary feed.
The Lifetime Ewe Management program, developed by Australian Wool Innovation with CSIRO and state governments, has changed the state of play in the current drought environment.
Flock nutrition has been maintained through supplementary feed, maintaining animal health and wool quality - particularly tensile strength. But this can come at an exorbitant cost unless correctly managed.
Previous generations measured flock health subjectively.
"If they ran up a hill they were doing ok," says David. "If one or two tailed on the way to the yards they weren't."
Now with the help of his phone David makes assessment of the condition score (CS) of a mob when in the yards, sets targets for CS and makes pasture dry matter assessments for the paddock the mob will live in. In return he is advised with accurate energy requirements and how much supplementary feeding might be required.
"We aim and feed for a target CS of three at joining and lambing," says David. "Research has shown that not only does this result in more wool produced but by moving the CS from two to three will result in 20 per cent extra lambs born and increase their survival by 15-20 per cent.
"This all means more, bigger lambs at weaning," he says. "If you stop trying to improve you will go backwards."