They may be young but Wilcannia couple Ben Crozier and Sarah Groat know a thing or two about getting the most from their livestock business.
They've just conducted a strong lamb marking and are accelerating their rebuilding efforts thanks to the return of feed stocks in the west.
But the journey to success for this young pair, who manage Bellvale, Mt Kew and Box Valley Stations stretching more than 150,000 acres (60,700 hectares), involves a transformation that would rival any renovation show.
Together with their family of Allan, Jill and Rick Crozier who have a total holding of 300,000 acres (121,405 ha), a backpacker Barbel Kroeger and a team of kelpies they've been able to restore optimum production to rundown western stations.
Upon taking over some years ago the properties had historically run Merinos but more recently were home to agistment cattle. In 2010 they bought Bellvale Station bearing two old houses, fallen down sheds and an old woolshed that hadn't been used since the early 1990s.
To get production underway they opted to run Dorpers and began constructing electric and hinge joint boundary fences. By 2017 their aggregation expanded again with the purchase of Mt Kew and Box Valley Stations and fencing restorations stretch 90 kilometres thanks to Carey Contracting.
The next year 13 kilometres of pipeline was installed at Bellvale Station to increase water stability beyond the house, which was the final watering point on the 45,000 acre (18,210 ha) property, and now at least four tanks from 130,000L to 250,000L have helped provide summer water security.
Human residents also became a first when the pair moved into Bellvale Station earlier this year, the newest people to live on the place in 30 years.
"You get excited about holidays and presents but we get most excited about having a new fence line just to know you have security of your sheep, they are not going to go anywhere, you can actually control your numbers and also your grazing methods as well," Mr Crozier said.
Coming out of drought in Easter last year they had 10,000 breeding ewes, which gave them a strong start for restocking. In 2017 they decided not to join their ewes to save on feeding costs and allow their breeders to push through the conditions.
It's a decision they stick by with rams having just returned from the first of two joinings.
Mr Crozier said they hoped the rams would be put back in December meaning it wouldn't take long to build their numbers back up.
Marking percentages ranged from 115 to 120 per cent with the best mob boasting 210 per cent.
"Everyone has got feed so they are growing quite quick," Mr Crozier said.
Managing livestock in such a variable climate requires flexibility of grazing management, rainfall and markets. Sometimes 100km separates one road to the next and rainfall can be just as far apart. Lambs are ideally turned off at trade weight dressing 25 kilograms and have sold to Coles and organic markets recently.
"Every year has been different and that is the challenge we face," Mr Crozier said. "We have never gone to the same market consistently year after year. We have always chopped and changed all the time that is just due to the animal we have got, the product and where they are going to go."
Stock handling has also been upgraded with at least six sheep yards modified and allowing for up to 2300 lambs to be marked a day.
In the early days minor adjustments were made to conduct yard work but Mr Crozier admitted sometimes cars and trailers had to be parked on corners to keep the infrastructure together.
ProWay Serpentine drafts allow any operator to handle the physically strong sheep at the drafting gate while auto draft and auto scales have improved performance data analyses. The renewed fencing has also lessened pest burden meaning the country has never looked better.
"It's got a lot more sweeter not having cattle eat it," Mr Crozier said.
"The sheep seem to graze a lot better. I looked at photos from just five years ago and when you look at them it feels like years and years ago."
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