Hardy a must in cold country

Australian Whites can handle tough, cold conditions

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TOUGHING IT OUT: John and Clea Ralph, Oberon, say Australian Whites can handle the cold winters, and have a fantastic survival instinct.

TOUGHING IT OUT: John and Clea Ralph, Oberon, say Australian Whites can handle the cold winters, and have a fantastic survival instinct.

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In the high country near Oberon, you need to be able to handle the cold. And Australian Whites can.

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For John and Clea Ralph, having hardy sheep is absolutely essential. The sheep breeders near Oberon are used to cold winters and snow, so they need sheep that can handle the tough conditions. And they say Australian Whites fit the bill.

Mr and Mrs Ralph, Bennelong, run a small flock on 68 hectares, and have found the Australian Whites ideal for their circumstances. But it isn't just their hardiness.

The Ralphs, who also run Oberon Plateau Farm Trees, heard about the Australian Whites when James and Ross Gilmore offered to shear their sheep for them.

"When they were telling us about developing the Australian Whites, they said they were a shedding sheep, and our ears pricked up," Mrs Ralph said. "We were having trouble getting shearers for only 100 ewes."

Mrs Ralph said they eventually bought 20 young Tattykeel Australian White ewes in 2016. The ewes were joined to a Tattykeel ram. Since then they have also bought a further 20 ewes in lamb, and bought another two rams this autumn.

Mrs Ralph said they had kept their numbers small, running around 130 ewes at the moment. "There were so many things that appealed," she said. "The lack of shearing was obvious, but we also have little problem with flystrike. That's been a big bonus. At lambing from July, they tend to lamb within the mob, which means we've lost less lambs to foxes. Our lambing percentages have gone up significantly. We have a 150 per cent lambing rate, compared with 120 with the crossbreds. In the past three years we haven't had to pull any lambs.

"It must be the fact they are a haired sheep: they have a survival instinct in the flock. They will run together and gather if they are startled. They seem to have a much stronger mothering instinct and work as a group.

"They also seem to like to stay together, so they don't seem to push through fences."

And when there is severe weather, Mrs Ralph said the sheep can handle it. "The lambs seem to be hardier. They are pretty small when they are born but they pretty much hit the ground running," she said. "And when it is snowing, they go and find a sheltered spot. They seem to be more robust. They are less inclined to give up the ghost, like some sheep."

The Ralphs fatten their lambs on pasture, selling them through Central Tablelands Livestock Exchange at Carcoar as heavy lambs, depending on the season. They also have a rotational grazing plan for the property, which helps to manage worms.

"We are getting older, and you can't keep doing everything. But we still wanted to have sheep. It's been better than we thought."

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