Lambing season is in full swing on Kangaroo Island with sheep graziers and wool growers keeping busy seeing in the next generation.
It’s been a phenomenal few years for growers due to excellent sheep and wool prices, with an even higher premium paid for Kangaroo Island product.
June and July are the peak lambing months for both merino and cross-bred meat sheep.
Among those shepherding the new lambs is 26-year-old Caitlin Berry, who is livestock manager at the family farm Deep Dene at MacGillivray.
She oversees a flock of about 4800 sheep, mostly fine wool merinos but also some cross breeds.
Things are finally looking up after a tough start to the season.
“It’s been a slow start after a very dry summer and a late start for the rain but we’ve had 100mm so things are going all right now,” Ms Berry said.
“The pastures are looking better and it’s good to see the ewes sitting down and chewing their cud rather than running around searching out patches of growth.”
Ms Berry after graduating from KICE went on to study a Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Science from the University of Adelaide.
She is typical of a new generation of young Islanders going off to get an education and then returning to run the family property.
“I love the agricultural industry and like to work outside and not do the same thing every day. Farming is always changing and no two seasons are the same,” she said. “I also just love animals and sheep.”
“It’s a very dynamic industry with so many scenarios at play, you can plan and come up with strategies as much as you want but you are always at the mercy of the environment.
“Every growing season is going to be different and you always going to be reliant on the environment.”
The Berry Partners Deep Dene operation breeds from about 1700 ewes each year, with special attention paid to the 300 ewes in its stud operation.
There were always new innovations coming along in the sheep industry such as bare breach, which was a controversial subject, she said.
She was not sure whether bare breach sheep, which minimises the need for mulesing, would catch on with KI wool growers, but there was already a focus by breeders on reducing wrinkle, which she thought was the way to go.
The Island was already viewed as an innovator in producing a high-end, sustainable product, and the marketing efforts of the Kangaroo Island Wool organisation had really been paying off in terms of prices paid for KI wool.
“KI has done a lot of marketing of the KI brand,” she said. “KI sheep are bred in a pristine environment and KI Wool has done a really good job selling our story to the wool buying companies.
“It’s a quality product that keeps you warm and the buyers know that our sheep are raised right and have a healthy, happy life.”
The greatly improved wool prices over the last three years meant that farmers were able to reinvest in their operations.
“It just keeps going up and up, which means we can spend more money in taking care of our sheep and not making sacrifices on animal husbandry,” she said.
“Upgrading faciliies makes it so much better for the workers and the sheep.”
At Deep Dene, the family has been able to improve farm lay-out and yards, so the sheep don’t have to walk as far.
Ms Berry and the other young farmers of KI will continue to focus on genetics and breeding a better merino.
“We are trying to breed a sheep with low wrinkle and nice white, free-growing wool, as well as a frame and body structure for tough years,” she said.
The future of agriculture on Kangaroo Island was looking bright with many opportunities for young people.
“A lot of you people are coming back to the farm, especially on the Island, which is great to see,” she said.
There were many roles for young people to play in all aspects of farming, from labouring and shepherding to breeding and genetics to information technology and marketing.
“I like the legacy aspect of running a family farm and also want to make a difference in the sheep industry,” Ms Berry said.
“With the industry doing so well at the moment, there is lots of money around and the sky is the limit, which makes it better for the sheep, better for the farmers and better for the environment. It’s dynamic and that’s why I love it.”
Cropping is also going well on Kangaroo Island. Check out our previous coverage: