AUSTRALIA'S oldest Poll Merino stud, Canowie, is entering an exciting new era after being sold to a fifth-generation Mid North farming family whose start in agriculture is intertwined with the stud.
After three generations in the hands of the Sawers family it has been sold to CC Cooper & Co, whose home base is Jamestown but owns properties in SA, NSW and WA.
They will continue on the Canowie name and the same flock that Erwin Seth Cooper, shore in the early 1900s to get enough money to buy the family's first block of land.
Canowie's origins date back even earlier than this though, to 1843 when it was founded by the Browne brothers who were early pastoral pioneers.
The Poll Merino stud was established by KPP Sawers in 1914 with 100 registered Canowie ewes and a polled ram.
Across the next century, the stud has had several moves, from Jamestown to Hawker, down to Kulpara and finally Coonalpyn - where it has been based since 1974.
The 2400 stud ewes will remain in the Upper SE with CC Cooper & Co also buying the 3340 hectare property.
In its heyday, Canowie was one of the state's largest sellers of rams and has always had a strong pastoral clientele.
It now sells 150-200 rams a year, including an annual auction in July, which the Coopers will continue.
Ken Sawers - the studmaster for the past 25 years - is pleased the stud will continue on.
"I could keep going for another five or 10 years but I didn't want to see it dispersed," he said.
"There was an opportunity to sell it on as a going concern to people who had a genuine need for that many rams."
Mr Sawers says their main emphasis has been breeding large framed, heavy-cutting Poll Merinos.
Performance testing has been an important part of the stud, started in 1965 by Ken's father 'Chip' and their classer at the time Don Walker.
In recent times, Canowie has largely been a closed flock with progeny tests on Collinsville and Moorundie sires.
"For the last 10 years we have been averaging eight kilograms of 19 micron wool on the commercials and 10 (kg) and better on the studs," Mr Sawers said.
'We didn't follow fashions as has happened elsewhere in the industry.
"They are just good plain-bodied sheep very productive lambing wise with good structure and bone"
CC Cooper & Co's director David 'Seth' Cooper is pleased that after several years of discussion with Mr Sawers, the deal has come to fruition.
They are magnificent wools, they are probably one of the best studs around for whiteness, brightness and lock structure.- DAVID COOPER
He says for some time they had been considering buying a stud or registering a stud to breed rams for their properties, which include Broughton Vale and Wonga stations, in western NSW and Madura Plains on the Nullarbor Plain in WA.
"We need between 200 and 250 rams a year ourselves," he said.
Mr Cooper sees the Canowie flock as a "tremendous example of a SA Merino".
"They are magnificent wools, they are probably one of the best studs around for whiteness, brightness and lock structure," he said.
The purchase of the stud shows the family's faith in Merinos, but it is a move Mr Cooper believes would make his forebears extremely proud.
"As the fifth son on 100 acres at Mount Pleasant, my great grandfather (ES Cooper) was not going to get an opportunity to take over the family farm," he said.
"So he worked as a fencing contractor and shearer until 1912 when he managed to take up 146 acres at Bundaleer, south of Jamestown, which is still our base.
"He had previously been exposed to the area through shearing at Canowie Station for many years."
As one of the top shearers of the time, ES would be asked to shear the special stud rams annually.
"We grew up listening to the story that he would be paid one guinea and a bottle of whisky each year for shearing just one sheep, the then-famous, 'Donald Dinnie'," Mr Cooper said.
In the past 15 years much of CC Cooper & Co's ram breeding has been undertaken at Broken Hill, largely on a Gum Hill base.
Going forward Mr Cooper is confident they can breed many of their rams in the Upper SE and still have them suited to the pastoral areas.
"We will be doing our assessment through this property while they are here and then relying on genomics to link that back to the mothers performance and sisters performance in the pastoral environment," he said.
He assures Canowie's clients that "nothing much will change in the short term", with them committed to supplying rams to both the stud's local and pastoral clients, with a flock dedicated to performance in the Upper SE continuing to be run on the Canowie property.
Looking ahead, Mr Cooper says their focus will be on maximising the lifetime performance of wool and weaning rates while maintaining the beautiful wools.
"Moving forward Merinos need to be weaning lots of lambs to keep up with the other breeds so reproductive performance is a key," he said.
"Surplus sheep sales are a big focus now whereas 50 years ago it was nearly all about wool."
Mr Cooper sees the purchase of the Coonalpyn property working in well with 6500ha CC Cooper & Co own at nearby Narrung, which is continuously cropped.
About half of Canowie will be cropped and the other half of the property will be dedicated to sheep breeding.
Elders livestock sales manager - southern Laryn Gogel, who helped negotiate the deal, says the new owners are a great fit to continue the historic stud and expand it further.
"One thing we know about the Canowie sheep is they are as tough as - we have always seen them perform wherever they go," he said.
"If you look at what David and the family are all about there is so much opportunity to take a good stable base that hasn't changed much over the years and take it to another level by recording information for the right reasons."
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