HAVING a level of confidence in available feed has allowed Shane and Anna Hooper to start rebuilding their sheep flock at Orroroo.
The couple took on management of the farm from Mr Hooper's father Kym in August 2018, in the middle of one of their toughest seasons.
Sheep numbers had dropped from about 800 ewes to as low as 200, while the cattle went completely.
They had previously run Wagyu-South Devon cattle, marketing direct to consumers.
"It was a decision we had to make - the cattle went first and if we had to, the sheep would too," Mrs Hooper said.
Of their 650 hectares, one quarter is used for cropping, with the remainder grazing country. They also graze sheep on half their crops, with the remaining grain stored on-farm, "in case the season doesn't turn out".
As they took on the property, some land of their land was coming off lease, reducing their available feed for the 2018-19 summer. Mr Hooper saw, on social media, a fodder system that allowed sprouted barley seeds to be fed out to sheep.
"The alternative was sell up all the sheep," he said.
The system works by soaking grain for several hours, then placing it in a tray for five to seven days to grow, watering daily.
Each day a portion is used to feed the sheep, with that tray then "reloaded".
Across a six-day period, about 50 strips - half a tonne of wet feed - were put out, alongside loose licks and some hay or straw for roughage.
Mr Hooper said the fodder grew quicker in warmer temperatures. There was also a lighting system but after a malfunction, they found natural light was adequate.
He estimated it could take as much as three or four hours each day to feed and the reload the system.
They have not done the figures on how much the entire system cost to feed the sheep, but say it was worthwhile, compared with the alternative of having to buy sheep back or buy in hay.
Mr Hooper said within a 12-month period they went from being able to buy vetch hay to paying the same price for the poorest quality hay, if they could even find it.
"The barley we had in the silo was cheaper than to buy in more hay," he said.
While the goal was just to maintain their flock, they found the ewes flourished.
"They definitely responded well," he said.
At the end of the 2019-20 harvest, they only reapt 32ha, with the rest of their failed crop used as sheep feed. With this available, they were able to move away from the fodder system and even bought in another 200 sheep in August.
"We had more feed available, heading towards the end of the year, which was enough to justify buying more in," he said.
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Despite not "firing up" the fodder system again this summer, the Hoopers say it gave them confidence to know it was an option.
Their main enterprise is wool production, using Calcookara rams across Leahcim bloodlines, aiming for an 18.5 micron fleece and nine-month shearing times, when possible.
At last year's Port Augusta wool show, they scoring a first and a third in the hogget class.
"It's nice to know you're doing something right," Mr Hooper said.
While they are still "keeping it simple" as they deal with drought, they are looking at multi-species crops to improve soil and livestock health, as well as a shift from synthetic fertilisers towards natural options.
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