JOYCE McConnell acknowledges the dollar value that White Suffolks have added to her diverse farming operation.
The primary producer runs three properties scattered throughout southern NSW at Hay and Deniliquin, juggling a wool, prime lamb, cattle and cropping enterprise.
In the years when wool or Merino wether prices plummeted, she says her White Suffolk-cross lambs had been a blessing.
"They've been an excellent money spinner," she said.
Traditionally, Mrs McConnell joined all her Merino ewes to Merino sires to cash in on a lucrative wool market.
But 15 years ago, that all changed when the wool price crashed.
"I was forced to look at alternatives," she said.
After doing her research, it seemed White Suffolks suited her operation the best.
"They are easy lambing and out on our northern country, we wanted lambs without wool on their face," she said.
"They are a cleaner type of sheep and that's good, because we do get some seed problems."
Today, Mrs McConnell runs 8000 Merino ewes, out of which 1000 are joined to White Suffolk rams.
"I had been putting about 2000-3000 Merinos with the White Suffolks, but we are trying to build up ewe numbers," she said.
Even so, the decision to produce prime lambs has been extremely profitable.
Mrs McConnell purchases White Suffolks rams from Max Treweek, Lauridale, Wakool, NSW, for their solid frames and performance rates.
"They've acclimatised really well to this area," she said.
The White Suffolk joining is carried out in October for a March lambing, while the Merinos are put through an AI program in November.
"March suits us, because we can get the lambs going early and we've got the option to sell them if needed," she said.
"If we've got water available, we can also get the pastures up and going."
At Deniliquin, Mrs McConnell has the option to irrigate and in the past two years a total of 202 hectares of lucerne, chicory, plantain and clovers has been sown for grazing.
She says the lambs have been thriving on the pasture blend, adding that it provides an ideal feed source under dry conditions.
"It (the pasture mix) is expensive to set up, but well worth it," she said.
More than 600ha of cereal crops are grown as well, including Wedgetail wheat that is used for grazing livestock and sheep.
Normally, the White Suffolk-cross lambs are kept on their mothers until they are sold, but this year a dry winter forced Mrs McConnell to change her routine.
"We had to wean the lambs six weeks ago, because of the feed situation," she said.
The lambs were finished on the pasture blend, with 238 sold at six months of age through the Deniliquin saleyards recently.
The draft fetched a top of $117 a head.
"The lamb market had come back a bit, but that day it jumped up about $10-$12," she said.
"We were pretty happy with that, because they were good quality lambs."
Earlier in the year though, Mrs McConnell admitted to an apprehensive outlook on lamb prices.
"We had seen lamb prices drop dramatically earlier on, and I wanted to look at other avenues to sell them," she said.
She settled on a $5/kg contract with Coles for a portion of her lambs, which provided some certainty in the face of a volatile market.
Those particular lambs were finished on saltbush country at Hay and were trucked off in August.
Mrs McConnell reveals she was more than happy with the price.
"That's a jolly good price," she said.
"We were way in front, because the market hadn't gone up then, but it's probably comparable now."
Looking back at the results, she admits she would definitely contemplate a forward contract again if similar circumstances arose.
"It was attractive, because we were looking at $4.20/kg through the yards," she said.
At the moment, any income from prime lambs is welcome.
"The wool job is pitiful," she said.
"It's back to where it was in 2008 and it's hurting us."
Merino wether prices have taken a dive too.
"Wethers are fetching about $50-$70," Mrs McConnell said.
"Last January we got $117 for ours, so we are looking at a huge drop."
Normally, the Merino wethers are offloaded in January, but it will come down to the season, with her Deniliquin properties experiencing one of the driest winters in a long time.
"We've had an inch since March," she said.
However, the Hay property had the opposite problem, with severe flooding earlier in the year that put much of the country under water.
"We trucked out 18 B-double loads of cattle and sheep, and they've been on agistment ever since," she said.
Facing lower margins in wethers and wool this year, Mrs McConnell says her enterprise is at a crossroads again.
The option to join more Merino ewes to White Suffolk is an attractive one.
"It is a good option to have and it will certainly be something to consider if things keep going the way they have been," she said.