Queensland's mulga country isn't where most would choose as the first location for blue ribbon-winning Merino fleeces, but a dedicated approach to supplementation and late summer rain has seen Peter and Marie Crook-King top the state this year.
Fleeces from the couple's property Glenorie, situated 85km south of Morven, took first place in the medium and strong wool flock sections and some of their fine wool entries were within three or four points of that category's winner.
The first-placed strong wool fleece had a yield of 62 per cent and a greasy fleece weight of 8kg.
WoolQ's Maurie McNeill said it was as good a wool as he'd seen in Queensland for a number of years, thanks to the attention paid to genetics and nutrition.
"I've classed at Glenorie for four years and in that time the cut, softness and handle has improved greatly," he said. "This year's rain was a big part of the great fleece weight but supplementary feeding got them a fair way - there's no result at the end without that."
The Crook-Kings this year pressed 112 bales from 3400 sheep, compared to around 80 bales for the last couple of years, with the wethers in the mob cutting 7.5kg.
The family has been cutting or pushing mulga since 2012, excluding 2016, and last year had only 112mm of rain for the whole year.
All that changed in January and for the first three months of this year they measured 350mm, and since then there's been just enough rain to keep the herbage going.
"We get the normal mulga herbages plus the rain grew blue crowfoot," Mr Crook-King said. "When you see that you know you're going to get good wool."
He credits his daughter Julie Brown, a veterinary surgeon, for managing the supplementation program for the flock, taking into account the phosphorus deficiency presented by the box, mulga and ironbark country, and for planning what paddocks the sheep will run in.
The tight-knit family operation includes son Bill Crook-King, a shearing contractor who was also responsible for erecting much of the property's cluster fence, and who handles the mechanical work and has undertaken some of the property's clearing work.
The Crook-Kings purchased Glenorie 85km south of Morven in 1979 and have been running sheep there since 1982.
"Sheep can definitely survive the long dry times on our type of country, with less inputs than cattle need," Mr Crook-King said. "They're easier to water and need less supplements."
Read more: Morven woolgrowers buy with confidence
The family has been making paddocks smaller, to around 1620ha in size, partly to manage pasture better and so they can strategically add watering points to avoid mismothering lambs.
They aim to breed back to 1500 to 2000 ewes or 5000 sheep in total, using Mt Ascot rams, and instigated the 11-landholder Tomoo Creek cluster that encloses 243,000ha.
Although fenced, Maremmas still run with the sheep as Mr Crook-King believes they lead to calmer sheep that stay in better condition.
The RNA ribbons were the first won by the family at state level, having only collected first prize at the Mitchell Show prior to this year.
While hoping for good wool prices off the top of a 40pc improvement in the clip, Mr Crook-King may have to settle for a good mutton market for his cast for age ewes for now.
"We thought we had it made in 2018 when wool was $3000 a bale," he said.
"Then in 2019 it was 2500. Now this year it'll be anything between $1200 and $1500 a bale.
"Last year we were affected by trade wars, this year it's COVID - maybe it's just as well we're growing more."