The ability to trade in and out of meat sheep quickly was the main driver behind Deon Stent-Smith’s decision to establish a Dorper operation in Queensland’s Central West.
Deon and his wife Allaine manage the 6075ha Shandonvale, 80km north of Barcaldine, on behalf of Deon’s family.
The Stent-Smiths also have beef and grain properties on the Central Highlands and Deon had no previous experience with sheep when he decided to restock with Dorpers following the recent drought.
“I’d never touched sheep before,” Deon said.
“But I saw that you could trade in and out of sheep so much quicker. In five months you have a lamb on the ground and another one coming again. With cattle that’s nine months at least.”
Like many of their neighbours, the Stent-Smiths were forced to completely destock - selling off their 600-head Simmental breeding herd in the drought years of 2012 and 2013.
When conditions improved, Deon was faced with yet another dilemma - unsustainable grazing pressure from kangaroos and the ongoing threat of wild dogs.
The family made the decision to erect 28km of exclusion fencing around 5000ha of their property, leaving just a small area of flood country outside the fence.
The 1860mm high Clipex fence cost around $7500/km to erect.
“It tooks us three months and at the end we mustered out an estimated 2500 roos onto our flood country,” Deon said.
“We got a shooting permit and over about nine months we removed over 7500 roos. We also got five dogs.”
Deon said the removal of the dogs and kangaroos enabled the family to start considering their restocking options and in October 2015 they purchased their first mob of F5 Dorper ewes from NSW.
“It still hadn’t really rained but we took the punt and over the summer of 2015/2016 we got nine-and-a-half inches (441mm),” Deon said.
“The first thing we noticed was the massive difference in feed between the country inside the fence and our country outside the fence,” he said.
The rain was a start but more was needed to help the country recover and provide some security for the expanding Dorper flock.
“We got 14 inches (355mm) the following winter and the country responded really well,” Deon said.
“We’ve stocked it now with 3500 Dorper ewes and we’ve been turning off the progeny as store lambs.”
The flock is split into two mobs and the Stent-Smiths use Bellevue Rams in two eight week joinings, March to April and May to June.
“As soon as the lambs hit the ground the rams go straight back in, if we have the feed in front of us,” he said.
Double joining can be tricky in tough seasons, like those that have returned to Shandonvale.
The property had recorded its driest Spring/Summer ever with just 73mm falling since September.
Despite the tough conditions, Deon has been impressed by the pregnancy rates of his Dorpers.
“We have a mob of 800 old ewes that are lambing now with their last lambs and we scanned them eight weeks ago at 75pc on a double joining with a twin rate of about 40pc,” he said.
“That’s pretty unreal for such a dry, spring and summer.”
In June, Deon also scanned a mob of 750 two-year-old ewes. They scanned at 91pc in lamb and a twin rate of 45pc.
The old ewes are being fed cottonseed (about 1.6kg/head/day) to keep their protein levels high for lambing.
Lambs are mostly sold in store condition, with the bulk of the wether lambs marketed through TopX at Warwick while ewe lambs are sold on AuctionsPlus to link with strong demand from restockers in the Central West.
Recent sales included 1600 wether lambs sold directly off their mothers for $92/head (freight additional) while a mob of ewe lambs sold on AuctionsPlus in May for $120.
While the prices have been undeniably strong, Deon said freight is a major issue for producers in the Central West, let alone more northern sheep districts.
“For a successful return of the sheep industry in Western Queensland a killing facility in Central Queensland is vital,” he said.
“Our closest processor is currently over 1200km, let alone a producer from Richmond.”
The Stent-Smiths have an interesting management philosophy.
Although not certified organic, very few drenches or inputs are used.
Instead raw apple cider vinegar, purchased in bulk, is used to inoculate stock water supplies every three months.
Deon said his property is free of barber's poll and he’s determined to keep the worm out.
“As long as we don’t bring it in we’ll be ok,” he said.
“We just make sure all the rams and any stock we buy are clean when they come here.”
Deon also uses Beachport Liquid Minerals in stock troughs.
The property is rotationally grazed and each paddock has at least three watering points with the sheep required to walk less than 1km to water at any time.
Camels are also used on mass (Deon currently has 140 of them) to control Prickly Acacia.
Deon and Allaine have also established a tourism venture on Shandonvale, offering visitors a unique insight into a working sheep property.
Deon is still trying to establish a realistic stocking rate now that the fence has proved successful.
But like many graziers burned by the drought, he’s happen to err on the side of caution and not put his country under too much pressure.
Deon said Queensland DPI figures state that kangaroos equate to 0.9 Dry Stock Equivalents, meaning one kangaroo is nearly equal to running one sheep.
“My research tells me that the greenies reckon it’s about 0.5DSE which is two roos to one sheep,” he said.
“So if you remove 7500 roos as we have done, then on green estimates that’s about 3500 DSE that you could be running and on government estimates it's up around 5 or 6000 DSE.
“Despite our dry summer we still have plenty of feed left now - we can get through to Christmas no worries at all just because we don’t have that pressure from the roos.
"We still have a couple of hundreds roos inside the fence which is fine.
“If we can get through a 12 month period on three inches of rain with that number of stock then we are laughing."