Restocking in the Monaro

Strategies for getting back in the game in the Monaro

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Richard Turner, Cooma, with Tex, is hoping to purchase locally-bred Merino ewes now the season is starting to turn.

Richard Turner, Cooma, with Tex, is hoping to purchase locally-bred Merino ewes now the season is starting to turn.

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The Turners at Cooma plan to forgo cattle and restock with Merinos.

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After recent good rain and a promised La Nina on the horizon, Monaro producers are looking to restock after years of debilitating drought.

But, with prices for live sheep and cattle sky-high, it's easier said than done.

Cooma's Richard Turner explained that after some very tough months, they had a promising start to the year with 150 millimetres of rain in February and March.

"But, then all of a sudden we got no follow up," Mr Turner said.

"In April and May there was nothing, so we decided to sell our cows and any old wethers, and just knuckle down with our Merino ewe base.

"We never planned to sell our breeding cattle, but there was the opportunity to put them into a strong market. They were in good order and we were looking down the barrel of our third big feeding winter, which may have broken the bank."

Mr Turner, who farms alongside his son, William, and wife, Sarah, sold 100 Angus cows as mostly pregnancy-tested-in-calf females on AuctionsPlus in May.

"The cattle market has only gone north since then but I don't regret that decision at all," Mr Turner said.

"It was just going to cost too much to take them through another winter."

The Turners also managed to send their remaining 800 ewes on agistment north of Yass for the winter, bringing them back just prior to lambing in July.

RETAINING PRIME CONDITION

Mr Turner said they aimed to keep their stock in good condition through the drought, for both joining purposes and to enable them to bounce back quicker after a break. Unintentionally, this meant they were ready for sale when the opportunity presented itself.

"We had been intensively feeding the cows for months before they were sold, they were mostly on cottonseed," Mr Turner said.

"The cows just went 'kapow' and took off, fattening really quickly. We also got all our prime lambs off as fats so it worked well."

Although they joined their cows during some of the worst drought months, from mid-October to December, they managed to get 90 per cent in calf.

"We were really pleased with that and it allowed us to sell them into the market as PTICs," he said.

The ewes were joined in good condition in February and Mr Turner said he was hoping to mark 95 per cent of ewes joined.

"That would be good considering the circumstances and how much they've been moved around," he said.

"We have been feeding the lambing ewes cottonseed as well, and some canola hay, we try to keep them at 2.5 to 3 fat score if we can."

Mr Turner said they were also relatively light stockers, ensuring they kept 70 to 80 per cent ground cover.

"There's dry matter out in the paddock still, and because they were away on agistment and we got some rain in July, there's a little bit of green pick," he said.

After 65 millimetres in July, 50 millimetres in August and a promising outlook for Spring, the Turners plan is to buy in quality Merino ewes.

"We'll look to restock with sheep, I think sheep are better suited to our country and our family has a lot of history in wool, my wife's a wool classer, my father-in-law used to own a wool business," Mr Turner said.

"The cattle market is also just obscenely dear. They're still killing at a high rate, but it would seem that Australian meat is the most expensive in the world at the moment so I think something's got to give.

"Merino prices are a bit more value for money then beef cattle at the moment."

MONARO EWES IN HIGH DEMAND 

However, Mr Turner acknowledged that they would be one of many Monaro producers chasing quality, locally-bred Merino ewes this season.

"They're going to be really hard to find," he said.

"A lot of people have still got their sheep from the Monaro on agistment to lamb down or they're just returning now.

"If we get rain there's not going to be a lot available around here so it's going to be a tense time."

Mr Turner thought they would be looking at the juxtaposition of having a terrible wool commodity price and falling sheep meat market, but potentially sky-rocketing live sheep values.

"It will be interesting, and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight for the wool market," Mr Turner said.

Although the Turners plan to keep their overall ewe mix at 20pc crossbreds and 80pc Merinos, in the short term they will look to go down the sheep meat route.

"I think we'll probably buy some good quality Merino ewes and join them to Dorsets, White Suffolks or Borders for one joining and then put Merinos back over them the following year to get a Merino lamb," he said.

The Turners are on a Hazeldean bloodline, with Greendale infusions, and plan to remain that way.

"I'm about cutting as much wool as I can," he said.

"I also look very closely at the Merino Production plus indexes, and of course like to have good looking sheep. We'll sit on our hands and just wait for them to come up."

In the meantime, if they did get a flush of feed in spring, they would look at trading opportunities.

"One of the other strategies, is to keep the oldest ewes back to join again, that's a couple hundred ewes we don't have to find," he said.

"We can also retain more of those genetics, they're a 2015-drop so there's no reason they can't do another couple of years. We're trying not to buy extremely expensive ewes, but still have good quality breeders."

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