Lowes embrace new management tools

Lowes embrace new Merino management tools

Sheep
TOGETHER: Joshua, Alexander, Harriet, Paddy, Sarah and Michael Lowe at their property Innisvale, Crookwell.

TOGETHER: Joshua, Alexander, Harriet, Paddy, Sarah and Michael Lowe at their property Innisvale, Crookwell.

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Keeping abreast of industry trends and technology is just as important as on-farm management for the Lowe family.

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MICRONS aren't everything, according to Merino-breeders Michael and Sarah Lowe.

The Crookwell producers say their idea of wool quality isn't anchored to a figure.

"I'm not necessarily motivated by micron," Mr Lowe said.

"But our average micron is around the 18 to 19 mark and that is about where I like it."

It's just part of a broader way of thinking about wool production for the family, which includes the four children Joshua, Alex, Paddy and Harriet, on their property, Innisvale.

"We strive to produce long, stylish, white wool that is well nourished to suit our conditions on the Tablelands on heavy cutting sheep so ram selection is based on all those traits along with body type and structural correctness," Mr Lowe said.

That thinking is working well with the Lowe fleece occasionally sought out by Italian spinner buyers, with the majority going to China.

The family also has a property near Taralga and some leased country at Laggan.

Testing temperatures

RUN in partnership with Mr Lowe's parents, the family is currently running about 2000 merinos, 1000 crossbred ewes and 80 Poll Hereford cows.

The farm operates as a self-replacement operation, joining about 60 per cent of its Merino ewes to Merino rams.

"The rest are joined to Border Leicester rams for a self-replacing first-cross ewe flock for a prime lamb operation," Mr Lowe said.

The Crookwell area is known for getting particularly chilly.

That may seem a significant hindrance to output but Mr Lowe said the breed wasn't overly fazed by the conditions.

"Merinos are very versatile and they handle this country generally very well," he said.

FAMILY: Long-time sheep producer, John Lowe, Innisvale, Crookwell, runs the Merino operation with his son Michael.

FAMILY: Long-time sheep producer, John Lowe, Innisvale, Crookwell, runs the Merino operation with his son Michael.

"The thing they don't like is how cold it gets, particularly at lambing time."

Despite the low mercury, the property is enjoying a good season.

This is something that Mr Lowe is appreciating fully, while being extremely thankful.

"After coming through what we have, and to have feed on the ground and be still seeing growth in the middle of July is a pretty good feeling," Mr Lowe said.

"We still need rain though.

"I have many dams that are still below half-full here on the western side.

"The eastern side (Taralga) is different. It's had a lot more rain over there.

"We are at the head of the catchment for Wyangla Dam, which is still under 20 per cent."

The healthy season is helping kick along the Merino flock with shearing set for October.

Their crossbred wool was sold in March, prior to the market taking a significant dip.

"It is not surprising that the market has fallen given the current circumstances and the fact that wool has never stayed at a peak for an extended period of time in history," Mr Lowe said.

"I haven't forward-sold any so we'll just see how things go in a few more months."

Industry involvement

MICHAEL Lowe has seen plenty of changes within the industry over his 30 years of "fulltime" involvement in the sheep and wool trade.

He started in the industry when he left school but grew up with sheep as a kid.

That closeness to the industry extends beyond the farmgate as well.

The Lowes have been entering the Crookwell Flock Ewe Competition, run through the Crookwell AP & H society, since its inception.

The competition is open to any person, partnership or company, provided the sheep exhibited have been bred on the property of that person, partnership or company and the property is in the Crookwell region.

The development of research and marketing woollen products has been a big change when you think of what wool was made into 40 years ago compared to now - activewear, sneakers, etcetera. - Michael Lowe, Innisvale, Crookwell

There are numerous prizes awarded and sections for long wool and spring-shorn, plus a future development award, people's choice award and a top eight award.

It has become well supported in recent years with healthy sponsorship from both local and national businesses.

Respected guest judges are invited from various sheep-producing regions each year to bring their insight and perspective to the competition.

The Crookwell region area has an extensive history in showing primary produce with the first Crookwell Show held in 1879.

According to Mr Lowe, who is part of the organising committee, there's more to it than simply handing out ribbons.

NUMBERS: Crowds gather around the maiden Merino ewes as they are judged at the Crookwell Merino Flock Ewe Competition.

NUMBERS: Crowds gather around the maiden Merino ewes as they are judged at the Crookwell Merino Flock Ewe Competition.

"I think those comps are a great concept and are very helpful in improving the region's sheep, not only genetically but in sheep management as well," he said.

"They are a great forum for getting growers together in a social setting as well.

"We also organise a Junior Judging Day with regional high schools which has been great but couldn't go ahead this year.

"I have also been involved with the wool section of the Southern District Exhibit at the Sydney Easter show for a number of years."

New frontiers

A LIFETIME spent in the industry doesn't mean Mr Lowe is welded onto traditions.

Quite the opposite in fact.

He said he keeps abreast of new ways of doing things and is open to trying them.

"Particularly when it comes to managing ewes coming up to critical times such as joining, lambing, to ensure maximum possible production," he said.

He's also embracing the digital space and thinking beyond scribbled notebooks.

"We've moved to a cloud-based management software in recent years which has been good," Mr Lowe said.

Three decades of participation have given Mr Lowe plenty of perspective.

He said the industry has been run pretty well.

Any woolgrower I know makes management decisions which are in the best interest of the animal because sick or unhealthy animals are no good to anyone. - Michael Lowe, Innisvale, Crookwell

"The development of research and marketing woollen products has been a big change when you think of what wool was made into 40 years ago compared to now- activewear, sneakers, etcetera," he said.

"I think after this COVID situation settles down we still have a very bright future."

Investment in shearer/woolhandling training, dog fences, grower workshops and marketing products overseas are all very much welcome in his eyes.

But according to Mr Lowe, it's animal welfare which continues to be a mountain to climb.

"One challenge for all of us is managing the current movement to impose restrictions on how we manage our animals," he said.

"Any woolgrower I know makes management decisions which are in the best interest of the animal because sick or unhealthy animals are no good to anyone.

"So whether we choose to mules or not, or what method we use to tail dock, castrate, etcetera, should be our decision as professionals.

"We are so lucky to have the analgesic/anesthetic products at our disposal these days so I would like to see a more cohesive approach across everyone in our industry regarding this issue."

National concern

ANOTHER issue is the need to increase the national flock size.

"I know this is already a priority," Mr Lowe said.

"Hopefully the wool price kicks up once world demand starts up again so that returns are not a barrier."

Recent world events have highlighted for Mr Lowe how much Australia relies on overseas countries such as China.

"I think we need to take another look at what we can do with our products before it leaves the country, specifically wool scouring," he said.

"Surely we would be better off scouring wool here rather than shipping more topsoil than wool to China as has happened during the drought?"

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