GEOFF Sanderson is a man who is passionate about his Merinos but believes in keeping his sheep operation simple, breeding the right sheep and managing them conservatively.
Geoff, together with his wife Faye and his parents Ted and Betty, established their property in 1978 and run 1300 Merino breeders on 5000 arable hectares in the Grass Patch and Shark Lake areas.
Geoff and Faye have had their hands full cropping 3500ha to wheat, barley, canola and peas while also running 200 Angus breeders on the Shark Lake farm but Geoff said help was on the way with his son Nathan and daughter-in-law Catherine due to head back to the farm this month.
"With my son back on the farm I'm very excited about what our family farming future holds," he said.
Despite cropping being their main focus, the Sandersons endeavour to maintain a self-replacing Merino flock as they believe sheep give them diversity.
Geoff said when it comes to selecting ewe hoggets, their classer, Elders stud stock representative Russell McKay, was very ruthless.
"He only keeps the best and selects great wool type ewes which are heavy cutters with big, plain-bodies," he said.
"We have been on Scott and Sue Pickering's, Derella Downs bloodline for five to six years and their rams have produced some great progeny."
When it comes to selecting the rams, Geoff and Russell look closely at staple length and make sure the rams have a big, plain body.
Geoff joins the rams to ewes in November at two per cent with the ewes lambing down from April through to May.
The ewes averaged 80 per cent lambing this season but Geoff said they still have plenty of room to improve.
"In the near future I am looking at pregnancy scanning and taking out the dry ewes to help improve our lambing percentages, but it depends on how complicated it all gets" he said.
Geoff runs 2.5 sheep to the hectare during the best part of the year.
He has sown 1000ha into medic pasture which caters for the ewes nutritional needs at lambing time.
"I usually manipulate the grass out of the pasture but this year I decided not to as we wouldn't have had enough feed for the ewes," Geoff said.
"It was a wet start to the summer but the rest of the season so far has been long and dry."
Not only do the breeders get the goodness out of the medic pasture but before the break of the season they are run on 3500ha of stubble to keep them in good condition and if the season gets tough they are supplementary-fed seconds grain and a bit of barley.
"Our ewes must be easy-care and good doers to perform in the harsh seasons," Geoff said.
Shearing begins in January and none of the sheep average anything broader than 20 micron.
In a normal year the ewes will cut 7kg of wool, which is then sold through Elders after shearing.
The Sanderson family has been selling through Elders for 20 years and when they sold their wool in February this year, it averaged $1400 a bale, which at the time was up in the top end of the market.
Geoff said he was hoping the wool market would pick up again by the time they came to sell next season.
"I am quite certain it will but we will just have to wait and see," he said.
"This is why I like the Merino ewe as a breeder as she gives you plenty of diversity.
"You can get an income not only from her wool but also from the wether lambs she produces and as a surplus ewe herself."
In March and April the Sanderson family sold their 12-month-old wether lambs as shippers with two months wool on them and received $105 a head.
Geoff said he was pleased with the price.
"We also sold our surplus ewes to another farmer and they returned $115 a head," he said.
"There is definitely money to be made in the dual-purpose Merino and it's the reason the family has always and will always run sheep."
On the cropping side, Geoff considers the crop-to-sheep ratio is balanced right.
"Every year we rotate a paddock and because we have self-regenerating clovers, there is always some feed for the sheep," he said.
The family has tried to run a crossbred flock to produce prime lambs but their Shark Lake property didn't have the capacity to hold them and they compromised the cattle herd too much.
"Wool has always been a passion of mine and fine wool at that," Geoff said.
"Despite running our sheep flock conservatively, I always make sure we have 50 to 80 tonnes of grain stored and 100 bales of hay on hand, so that if it is a hard season we don't get any breaks in our fine, white wool."
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