The Burren Junction flock that thrived in drought

Burren Junction wool growers credit attention to detail for flock success

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From dust to grass in just four weeks.

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Four weeks ago Philip, Coral and Alastair Marshall were blanketed in dust as they fed their Merino flock from the crack of dawn until lunch time every day.

It had been four years since the family had a promising season across their 5665 hectare (14,000 acre) aggregation of Tareela and Glenburnie at Burren Junction.

But today their feeding schedules are a little different.

Their wind blown soils are being held into place by a determined green shoot and nobody is complaining about the bit of extra time required to negotiate vehicles through paddocks that are now soft under foot.

At least 112 millimetres has fallen in that short space of time, the perfect requirement to turn their seasonal prospects around for the better.

Coral and Philip with a rested paddock of Mitchell grass that is responding well.

Coral and Philip with a rested paddock of Mitchell grass that is responding well.

"That amount is perfect and then we would love some follow up," Mrs Marshall said.

"The Mitchell grass is really responding. It (feeding) was getting really tricky because everything was getting saturated but we weren't complaining."

Coral, Philip and and Alastair Marshall.

Coral, Philip and and Alastair Marshall.

While drought was proving a challenge, it was one the Marshalls were dominating.

They received just 165 millimetres last year in what was once a 475 millimetre average yearly rainfall area yet their flock had never performed better.

Grown sheep with 11 months wool averaged 8.7 kilogram fleeces during shearing this year measuring about 19 micron.

Their small flock of stud sheep, used to breed their own rams, featured a ewe with a greasy fleece weight of 13.1 kilograms for 11 months wool at 100 per cent comfort factor and a young ram with 7.5 months of wool weighed 13.2 kilograms.

As the most successful commercial exhibitor at the 2018 Australian Sheep and Wool Show and two-time reserve champions, the Marshalls attributed their success to attention to detail and obtaining a consistent business plan.

Everything is calculated and evaluated; from the optimum speed the motorbike needs to travel when dispersing feed into the purlins in each mob, to the wool, conformation and fertility of each animal.

Alastair Marshall with a poddy ewe.

Alastair Marshall with a poddy ewe.

Maiden ewes are fed faba beans while other mobs are given a barley ration. Ewes are scanned and separated into dry, single and twin mobs with those expecting multiples placed on self feeders to avoid mismothering and not placed in paddocks that may contain roads.

Up to 10 per cent of each mob that may be under performing or shy feeders are separated and aided until they reach optimum performance.

Coral and Philip Marshall with some of their ewes.

Coral and Philip Marshall with some of their ewes.

"We are pretty generous (in our feeding)," Mrs Marshall said.

"When they are dry or when they are in lamb or have a lamb at foot, we alter it accordingly. At the moment we are probably feeding 0.5grams/head because we have proved that we are getting the huge weights in our wool and we are getting more in the worst drought you can imagine than just normal."

Destocking their property wasn't been an option.

Usually joining 3000 Merinos of Bungulla bloodlines since 2005, they are currently feeding 2600 ewes as part of a total flock size of 5000 head.

Their cattle numbers have reduced from 100 poll Shorthorn breeders to 59 with their mob of 77 calves currently in a containment feeding setup receiving barley and hay.

"With all these droughts we have had over the years, and there has always been droughts as long as forever, our policy is just to try and maintain our normal mode of operation but we class a bit heavier," Philip Marshall said.

"Sometimes you will just turn a blind eye to something and keep it but we don't do any of that.

"Generally speaking we stick to our plan. We don't destock per say, that's what we decided and we decided the same policy with this drought. We have thought about a system and we still reckon we have done the right thing. We are still handling it."

Mrs Marshall undertakes the role of classing the sheep with their ewes sold at five years.

Old ewes and any culls are shorn in December, a general shearing takes place in March and lambs are shorn at the end of May.

But this year general shearing took place a month early to allow their sheep to manage in the conditions.

"Now because of the drought we are considering selling our next age group down, which is four year olds, which we really don't want to do," Mrs Marshall said.

"So we have shorn them and then we decided lets shear everything."

Alastair, Coral and Philip Carlon.

Alastair, Coral and Philip Carlon.

Mrs Marshall's grandfather and his family came to Glenburnie in 1898 to a landscape described as the sweetest country.

"We used to get good summers so Mitchell grass would grow and in winter, clover," Mrs Marshall said.

"The climate here is hard but it's sweet country, very sweet country."

Quality could easily be the business motto of the Marshall family.

Road trains of grain and hay are always of the highest standard and they aren't afraid to pay top dollar for a stud ram who can continue to deliver for their commercial flock.

Since 2008 they have been breeding their own rams focusing on animals with big frames, soft wool and good conformation.

"There is no secret, everyone can do the same thing," Mr Marshall said.

"It's just as easy to keep a good sheep alive as it is a bad one, it just depends on your attitude towards it.

"I think it comes down to quality; selecting quality rams and quality wools and, especially in tough times, being harder on your classing."

"When things get tough you just have to get tougher, your attention to all this detail has to get stronger," Mrs Marshall said.

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