AFTER the devastating 2019-20 Kangaroo Island bushfires nearly wiped out their entire family farm aggregation, Michael and Sarah Stanton decided to take some new approaches in their sheep-focused business.
The Stanton family business lost 4035 sheep in the fires and 65 cattle, plus three homes, shearing shed, farm infrastructure, fences, crops, pastures and their pets.
Michael and Sarah now solely run Stokes Bay Genetics, as well as about 100 Murray Grey breeders, on 2000 acres just south of Stokes Bay.
They moved into their new home in July 2020, have a brand new shearing shed and yards, while Sarah's commercial market garden is also almost complete.
But the biggest goal for the couple has been getting their farm back to full production, which has included a few adjustments to their Poll Dorset and Poll Merino stud flocks.
In October 2020, the Stantons became the first registered Ultra White stud in SA, after buying 50 ewes from Hillcroft Farms in WA.
"After losing our shearing shed in the fires, it encouraged us to look at breeds that were low maintenance, shedding sheep, but also high fertility to rebuild," Michael said.
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"We always thought Hillcroft had a good operation and profitable sheep, so when he swapped all of his Poll Dorsets to Ultra Whites (originally a White Dorper and Poll Dorset cross), we decided to give them a go."
The couple bought Ultra White ewes from Hillcroft in 2020 and 2021, and have since built up to 63 females.
"We're trying to do a maternal composite for meat (Ultra Whites), while the Poll Dorsets are our terminal rams and the Poll Merinos as a maternal wool - focusing on high fertility, high muscle, high fat," he said.
Michael said the Ultra Whites were performing well.
"We AI'd in January and did an embryo transfer for the first time as well," he said.
"We had a really high success rate, collecting 85 embryos from five ewes.
"Ultra Whites are well known for providing two lambings a year. With the stud, we are only planning for one lambing a year, so we will have to stop the ewes getting overfat - they really don't need a lot of feed when they're not in-lamb."
The Stantons have also taken a new multi-purpose approach in their Merino breeding.
We had considered getting rid of shearing altogether after the fires, but we wanted to keep diversity in the business.- MICHAEL STANTON
"We had considered getting rid of shearing altogether after the fires, but we wanted to keep diversity in the business," Michael said.
"Where some breeders push for low micron, high fleece weights in their Merinos, we're using our Merinos as mothers to produce prime lambs so we're trying to push high fertility, easy care, good muscle/fat traits."
The Stanton flock is electronically tagged, while also DNA tested to help achieve their goals.
"This enables us to cull more strictly and now we have less variation," Michael said.
"We did lose a lot of genetics in the fires - it put us back a good five years - but we're aiming to cease mulesing and improve our worm resistance shortly.
"Shearing also costs a fortune here, so we're selecting the best Merinos with good wool and plain bodied for ease of shear."
The new shearing shed and undercover yards, finished in late November, is also helping to reduce labour, featuring a sheep handler, auto-drafter, bulk handler and crutching machine.
It also acts as a machinery shed, ram sale shed, meeting area, and AI and ET facility.
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While the farm rebuild has been the main focus of the Stantons, their on-property commercial vegetable garden has also been taking shape.
Sarah had been delivering weekly boxes of farm fresh produce prior to the fires, before it too was razed.
"It's hard to get good quality produce on the Island - we hope to produce berries, cut flowers, fruit and vegetables from this spring," she said.
Looking ahead, the Stantons also plan to reduce their cattle herd as their sheep flock increases, while their ram sale on October 14 will feature their first catalogue of Ultra Whites.
"Although it has been a long and daunting recovery, we are incredibly excited about the possibilities of our farm production moving forward," she said.
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