Merino Success Story – Warwick Family (SA)

Warwicks aim to bounce back doubling ewe numbers

Subject: David, Carol and Fiona Warwick, Holowiliena South


CASE STUDY: South Australia


AREA: 40,000 hectares


Why Merinos? My top three reasons

  1. Merino sheep are suited to the pastoral country with their toughness, adaptability and versatility
  2. They are dual-purpose animals
  3. Wool is a natural, sustainable fibre

RUNNING a sheep operation in an area with an average rainfall of 220 millimetres is a challenge but one that the Warwick family, Holowiliena South Station, SA, is keen to take on.

Backed by their long-term breed connection with Merino sheep production, they aim to double current ewe numbers in their self-replacing flock.

After recent drought years, the operation comprises 1000 breeding age ewes, 450 ewe hoggets and 1100 lambs.

The enterprise is run by David and Carol Warwick on 40,000 hectares of pastoral lease in the Flinders Ranges region, 70km from Hawker.

The Merino flock is at the root of the operation and the way forward for the future of the business long-term.

With a family connection to the property going back to 1853, the Warwicks know Merino sheep are proven performers in their pastoral country with their toughness, adaptability and versatility.

The flock is characterised by large-framed, plain-bodied Merino sheep producing an average of around seven kilograms per head of 20-21 micron wool from adults and 3.5kg of 18-19 micron fleece from weaners at eight months.

The clip usually yields 68-70 per cent.

There is an emphasis on family in the business with one daughter Fiona playing a key role, while their other daughter Cristina and her family also spend time at the station during busy periods and will “hopefully” one day also live on the property.

Fiona said Merinos had a great place in the market “as long as we frame it right”.

“We also have to be able to adapt,” she said.

“I’m really positive about the future. There is a lot of work going on to promote the breed and products.”

Fiona said she had worked on and off the property for 18 years and preferred to “work alongside” her parents rather than “take over”.

David said Fiona was playing an increasing role in the running of the property and that would continue.

Flock management

The flock is joined for a single lambing in July/August and shearing is completed across the flock in April.

David said they had been sourcing rams from a stud in the region for “a long time” because of their suitability to the local environment.

“We are still on the Merino, which we think do better than the polls. They seem to handle the conditions a bit better, particularly in bad years,” he said.

They were keeping an eye on the improvements in poll genetics and wouldn’t rule out using polls in the future.

They were aiming to breed sheep with a plain body and large frame.

“We are almost getting to the stage where we may have to tone back our frame size, particularly with the difficulties in getting shearers,” he said.

In mid November, the July/August drop wethers weighed 40 to 52kg live weight.

The wethers were sold at the November store sale at Jamestown, making $122.

The property is divided into 15 main paddocks of around 2500ha each and smaller holding paddocks.

At lamb marking time they muster the paddock to the water point centrally located in each paddock where there are temporary yards set up.

“The lambs are marked and just go straight back out the gate and mother up a lot better,” David said.

Fiona said the paddocks were “relatively small” and that helped managing the ewes at lambing time.

They currently wet and dry the ewes at lamb marking, drafting off the dry ewes for sale.

Since 1985 the lambing percentages had lifted from around 90pc up to 105pc and up to 115pc this year.

They usually class ewe hoggets, taking out up to 20pc.

In recent years because of dry conditions and low numbers, they have culled a minimum – about 10pc.

The ewes are run in mobs by age group, and ewe lambs are weaned in November using the smaller paddocks where they could be checked on regularly.

Dry conditions

A severe drought in 2019-2020 saw the Warwicks make the tough decision to destock the property’s flock by 90 to 95 per cent.

“We had sheep away on agistment and only a handful left on the property and we’re still understocked,” David said.

The long-term average carrying capacity before the drought was about 12.9 sheep per square kilometre and currently is 8/sq km.

He said that from 2000 onwards it had been “pretty horrible”, despite some rain that allowed them to “struggle through”.

Fiona said things had only started to improve this year, and then only really since the start of October.

They did get some rain in late December 2021 and another lot in January, which was useful.

David said: “We didn’t get anything much after that until the start of September and it really kicked in in October with a rain nearly every week.”.

The station received 40mm in September, 106mm in October and around 20mm plus in November so far.

“It’s unbelievable to get those types of falls and then follow-up rains,” he said.

“It’s that long since we had that situation, it’s hard to remember.”

Fiona said that with such a history of Merino breeding, they were grateful to find agistment for the breeding stock during recent drought years.

David said: “Sheep you breed in an area do better than sheep from outside the area”.

“We did buy some young ewes after shearing to fill the gap when we didn’t join, but they were from a dispersal sale in a pastoral area.

“Just now the country has responded so well to the rain we could run more sheep, but we just like to see the country get the feed back on it and go to seed – because you’ve got to look after your country long term,” David said.

“That’s why we are fairly conservative stockers.”

He said a flock of around 2000 ewes would enable them to manage themselves with contractors for shearing and crutching.

Being a pastoral lease, there is no cultivation or introduction of improved pastures and the feedbase comprises native grasses and herbage.

This case study is part of the Breed More Merinos campaign, demonstrating the unrivalled performance of the Australian Merino.