AN EMPHASIS on heavy culling and flock health has paid off with a consistent line of quality wool at Glenlyle Station.
Geoff and Helen Fels, and sons Heath and Ian typically run about 5000 Merino ewes north of Hawker, shearing 7000 to 8000 sheep in total.
They aim for about 21 micron fleece, but try not to compromise on body size.
As well as accessing the wool market, they sell young wethers as fat lambs.
“We have a combination of meat and wool, but mostly wool,” Geoff said.
The Fels family has been using Nyowee bloodlines for about 36 years.
Geoff estimates they buy about 10 per cent of the rams at Nyowee’s annual auction and the rest by private selection. He also tries to take an impartial person along, often a neighbour, to help his ram selection.
Heath said they have a strict culling practice.
Nyowee stud principal Ian Michael, Balaklava, visits the station each year to help grade the flock.
They keep about 60 per cent of the young ewes, with selection based on wool quality and growth for age.
Geoff said this attention to detail pays off at shearing time. At the most recent shearing, he was impressed with how consistent the fleeces had been.
“We only had two strong fleeces that didn’t go into the main line,” he said.
For the past decade they have used classer Dennis Dar.
The family sold more than 200 bales since April, and were awarded Elders Clip of the Sale during May, with points allocated for style and crimp definition, among other factors. They won the weekly award last year as well, with Geoff saying it shows they are on-track.
During the past 10 years, they have shifted from an August shearing to April.
Geoff said the decision to move the shearing forward came after a few years of late starts to the feed growing season meant they were losing ewes, particularly those with twins, while they still had full wool.
“With an April shearing, they’re lambing with a short wool,” he said.
Wethers and cull ewes are sold at the Jamestown market. In a typical season, the family would shear their wether lambs in February before selling as fat lambs in March, but they have not been able to do that for the past three years.
For two of those years, issues with barley grass seeds drove this decision, but in 2017, a lack of rain meant there was no feed to keep the lambs longer.
“We’ve had to sell them as lambs in September,” Geoff said.
They also sold off their older ewes in October and are just maintaining their core breeding flock, in order to keep hold of generations of breeding.
Generations of history at Glenlyle Station
The Fels family have a long association with the Hawker region.
Heath and Ian Fels are the fifth generation to live at Glenlyle Station, with Helen’s great-grandfather the first in the family to run the operation, while Geoff grew up on neighbouring Merna Mora Station.
Geoff moved to Glenlyle in 1968, and in the past 50 years, he and Helen have gradually added on and expanded their property, which they run in partnership with Heath, Ian and their families.
In all that period, they say there have been very few times like this one.
“Usually wool (price) is good and sheep are no good or sheep are good and wool isn’t,” Heath said. “This year, the issue is the season.”
Their annual rainfall has been well below average, leading to them to destock to the core breeding flock.
They have been providing supplementary feed to all stock but Geoff said the sheep had been holding their condition well.
He said it was difficult to rest paddocks due to the unprecedented large kangaroo numbers, so instead they were trying to spread the mobs among as many paddocks as possible.
In recent months, they have also been busy with laser levelling and contouring, ripping the ground to minimise the risk of wind erosion.
Geoff said the raised soil lifted the wind off the ground, stopping it from sweeping away the topsoil.
When the rain eventually arrives, it will also lessen the chance of having soil swept into creeks.
He estimates in the past six months they have spent about six weeks ripping, due to the dry conditions.