Peter and Diane Pidgeon describe their 13,350ha Stonehenge property as “just a mongrel sheep place” but in the 13 years they’ve owned Glenroy, it and Merino sheep have seen them through some pretty tough seasons.
It might have been a minor player in wool’s heyday, situated in the thick gidyea, top rock and Thomson River flood-out country south of the Mitchell grass plains that some of Longreach’s big wool incomes were made from, but it’s part of the sheep and wool comeback poised to happen in western Queensland.
Peter spent 20 years operating a team of shearers round the wider Stonehenge region and Diane was a rouseabout/woolclasser for 10 of those, so they know the industry and the country like the backs of their hands.
They knew which places grew the best wool and knew Glenroy, although lighter carrying and with a 275mm rainfall average, would stick by them.
They purchased it in 2005, buying wethers from Blackall for $20 and old ewes in full wool from a Longreach producer to stock it against advice from their bank manager.
Together with the 75 head of cattle they’d had on agistment while they were shearing, everything went well for a few years until 2010, when the wild dog attacks began.
“We didn't see a dog the first few years here – they'd come down the Vergemont (Creek) and pass through or disperse out into the hills,” Peter said. “The pulled timber helped the dogs in the drought – they’d run the sheep in the timber and they’d just fall over.”
Taking on the role of the Barcoo Shire Council’s rural lands protection officer in 2001 after retiring from shearing, Peter could say with authority that baiting participation rates were high, but still they came.
Eventually the Pidgeons had to go out of sheep and run only cattle for three years but in Diane’s words, they finally realised they couldn’t make a go of it with cattle and their country was better suited for sheep.
“We realised when the exclusion fences came along, we had to build a fence, whether you could afford it or not,” she said.
“There was nothing without a fence, but we’re on the way back now.
“We've probably got close to a couple of thousand sheep now and we want to have 4000 sheep here.”
Their syndicate with the Pratts at Waroona and Clark & Tait at Bimerah was one of those that received funding from the Queensland Feral Pest Initiative, and they started putting it up in December 2016.
By September the following year, after plenty of 45 degree days with their three children in school holidays, and weeks where they stood posts one weekend, had Diane weld stays through the week, stand up the wire the next weekend, leaving Diane to tie off the next week, their 23 kilometres of fencing was secure.
Peter said after trapping the one dog they’d fenced in, it was working a treat and they’d been able to confidently invest in restocking, aged ewes from the Quilpie region that have since lambed, and young Egelabra blood ewes from the Isisford area.
The lambing percentage from them wasn’t high – around 40 to 42 per cent reared – which Peter put down to the flywave early in the year that tormented the maiden ewes.
They’ve been quick to buy Terrick Merino rams to put back in, partly because they were acclimatised, partly because of the wool quality and partly because of their frame.
“They’re not a massive sheep, that are like a cow in this country,” Peter said.
“Big heavy things are the first ones bogged when it rains.”
“And our wool advisor was really impressed with the wool we sold off here, especially the yield of 70pc.”
They sold their 19.4 micron clip for a $2577 bale average in July.
As if that’s not enough, Peter and Diane also have around 200 head of feral goats behind wire after prompting from neighbour Mike Pratt, and have just invested in five Boer goats from Blackall.
“It’s for regrowth – we thought, it's an opportunity thing, and we diversify,” Diane said.
“We're certainly not attached to them. If it doesn't work or we don't think it's a good thing we'll stick them all back on the truck and get rid of them again.
“But they should suit all that rocky country out the back, if they stay there.”
To ensure they do, future plans include improving internal fencing.
Their second block of country, the 7285ha Deuce Downs, 50km to the north, is also part of a cluster and where their cattle are currently running.
It also gives the Pidgeons the option of internally fencing that property.
“The potential's there, in this sort of country to run Australian Whites, anything really, but we'll stick with the Merinos,” Peter said. “You've got choices then. A Merino ewe is a great asset on her own.”
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