Irish agricultural exchange student Francis McKee has attributed his success as winner of WAMMCO’s Producer of the Month title for June 2021, to his ongoing information exchange with the farmers of the Fitzgerald River area.
His Fitzgerald enterprise forward contracted 209 lambs including Dohne/Merino crossbreds that weighed an average of 23.97 kg to return $184.26 kg and win the Cooperative’s May 2021 Producer of the Month title with a premium score of 95.7 percent.
“Working with many local farmers firstly as employees and later as a mechanic, sharefarmer, super spreading contractor and provider of other rural services, gave this young man from a six-acre farm in Northern Ireland a rare insight to WA farming,” Francis said.
“We could see which enterprises were offering the best opportunities for our own farming ventures and copied what these farmers were doing. We realised early in the piece that Merino and crossbred sheep played a pivotal role in underwriting a farming strategy and followed the lead of neighbour Robert Young in trading and breeding to build a Merino-based flock. Sheep have always generated income for us, - on occasions helping to salvage decisions to go total cropping.”
Francis was one of many farm exchange students and backpackers from Europe, – and a host of farmers from South Australia – who came to this area in the early 1980’s.
He met his partner, Emma White soon after arriving in Fitzgerald and the two worked for individual farmers, and to develop farm service businesses, share farming, and ultimately a 2,300-hectare freehold base with another 1,000 hectares of leasehold – including a block at Cranbrook. Sons Fraser 21 and Harry 19, who are both qualified mechanics, return to help on the farm whenever possible.
The couple fear that three consecutive adverse seasons – culminating with a government sponsored farm water scheme in 2020/21 – have further decimated the Fitzgerald area’s livestock industry. “Successful neighbours are reported to have sold off most of their flock because of an unmanageable shortage of feed and water,” Francis said. “Seasons have been particularly adverse over the past three years, causing many of us to reduce stock numbers – despite the welcome ongoing buoyancy of the lamb and sheep industry. Ironically, - as is the way with farming, - 2021/22 will probably be our best season ever,” Francis said. Unfortunately, wet years tend to increase our salt problems in this area, and frost has become a regular problem.”
Silage and lick feeders are two successful outcomes from the recent tough times with the bonus of dams with catchments that were upgraded at the height of the three-year dry, now ready for a bumper season.
“Forty hectares of silage has also been a major contributor to our survival over the past two years.” Another decision two years ago to buy 500 Dohne ewes for a breeding nucleus is also showing pleasing results. “They are extremely easy care and have a wool value that is replacing crossbreds.”
Tambellup-based buyer Ken Sloan is tasked with supplying about 2,000 Merino ewe hoggets and store lambs a year from Katanning for a replacement and opportunity mating programme designed with mid-March lambing to deliver around 5,000 lambs to coincide with WAMMCO’s peak pricing schedules.
Caption: Emma and Francis with a draft of 500 Dohne/Suffolk cross lambs destined for WAMMCO Katanning at the end of June.
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