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Wililoo Rams go the distance, literally

Posted by Rabobank Australia on

11/08/2023

Imagine competing on ‘The Amazing Race’, but with three prized rams in tow.

It’s a compelling description from Western Australian merino producer Rick Wise, who, together with his father Clint, last year embarked on a road trip like no other – travelling across the Nullarbor Plain to represent the state at the 2022 Rabobank National Merino Sheep Show and Sale held in Dubbo.  

And, just as in the popular television series, an inconceivably tight timeframe added the required dramatic impact.  

Just one week earlier the Wise Family’s Wililoo Merino Stud had enjoyed enormous success at Katanning’s Rabobank WA Sheep Expo and Ram Sale – taking home The Western Australian Supreme Merino and Champion Fine Medium Wool and August Shorn Merino Ram.

This ram Wililoo A60289, sired by Wililoo Hector and measuring 18.4 micron and 169kg body weight, was consequentially eligible for the national title in Dubbo – with judging being on the other side of Australia the following week.

“It was a crazy turnaround time but we thought ‘blow it’, it was an opportunity that doesn’t come about too often, plus a great experience – and certainly something to talk about!”

With little time to plan, the father and son duo organised their quarantine requirements, and Rick laughs that Google Maps did the rest.

From their home near Katanning, Rick and Clint travelled 6,800km – loading the rams at 4am on Sunday morning, just three days after their Katanning success, and arriving in Dubbo at 11pm the following Monday night.

“We stopped in Ceduna to feed the animals and roll out our swags, and ended up getting caught by the time difference – we thought we’d had four hours sleep but in reality it was only two and a half!” Rick chuckles.

In addition to boasting some of Australia’s most well-travelled rams, Rick said the exercise was well worth it.

While they missed out on the National Supreme, their second ram exhibited won Champion Medium Wool, and Rick believed the networking opportunities alone would serve the stud well.

“Events such as Dubbo and Katanning are so valuable for long-term profiling, we don’t expect immediate sales off the back of these opportunities – we play a long game, and just by being at these events we hope that people might remember us well down the track.”

In fact, Rick recently braved the Nullarbor once again for last month’s Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show – and it seems he’s making quite a name for himself in the east.

Wililoo Merino Stud received Grand Champion August Shorn Strong Wool Merino, and Overall Grand Champion Strong Wool Merino.

For the first time, Rick also offered three rams for sale, which all sold, reinforcing that his journeys from the west are well worthwhile.

Showcasing an industry

 

With this year’s Katanning’s Rabobank WA Sheep Expo and Ram Sale fast approaching, being held on August 17 and 18, Rick will again be showing a number of his rams locally, and said there was enormous value in bringing the Western Australian industry together at the event – particularly as agri-political challenges surrounding live export loom.

“There’s obviously the social aspect of catching up with fellow sheep producers, and I’m also a firm believer that physical sheep showing still has its place,” Rick explains. “Lining sheep up allows commercial producers to see and compare all the different items and it’s a valuable yardstick for stud producers too.”

“Everyone is so time poor these days, so being able to see the best of the best in one venue is also extremely handy.”

Equally important, he believes, is the pride and nostalgia a sheep show evokes.

“It’s a good tradition to have on the calendar, and makes you feel good about your sheep, and the industry.”

Diversity and continual improvement the key to success

A fifth generation family operation, Rick, together with father Clint and brother Kurt run a mixed farming operation consisting of merinos, cattle and cropping.

Of their flock of 2,000 breeder ewes, around 800 are stud ewes, and for increased diversity Kurt oversees the family’s cattle enterprise, South End Murray Greys.

“Wililoo rams are bred for carcase ability and a fine to medium wool cut, with a target micron of 19-20 for grown sheep, and our average wool cut 7.5kg," Mr Wise said.

With lambs sold over the hook, he said their production aimed for enough wool cut of good wool, as well as big enough growth rates and carcase to meet the wether lamb market.

Years of breeding and a highly considered feed regime has served the Wise family well, and Rick’s focus on investing in the health of his flock has clearly paid dividends in the ring.

“Preparing sheep for show is not always easy, but we’ve been able to maintain consistency thanks to “Barloo” feed mill pellets and oats.”

“We also make sure our sheep are out and about running around the paddock, rather than in the sheds, as often as possible – it’s good for their wellbeing, and helps fertility outcomes.”

The Wise family’s Murray Grey operation is also one of the state’s most significant, and the stud prides itself on breeding 100 percent pure bred Murray Greys, featuring well-muscled, structurally correct bulls with excellent growth for age.

“We pay particular attention to low birth weight, high growth cattle, and Kurt is a firm believer in breeding cattle with a focus on the outlook of the animal, and using the actual data collected on each animal to get the optimum results for clients.”  

This year the family offered 54 bulls at its annual on-farm bull sale, held in early March, with a top of $15,000 and average of $9,046.

Cropping is also an important part of the business, and the three different enterprises are run across three separate properties in the Woodanilling district.

While it means the operation’s overheads are increased due to duplicated infrastructure needs, and Rick jokes “we can’t often take a holiday”, the risk mitigation is worth it.

“We grow winter cereals such as canola, wheat, barley and oats, and save on transport costs producing and storing our own hay and silage on farm, and also have the opportunity to benefit from a strong grain market.”

The Wise family is also one that doesn’t shy away from hard work, to the extent they continue to shear their own sheep rather than rely on contractors.

“It’s been a beneficial skill to have during the current shearing labour shortage, but more than anything it gives us an opportunity to see our sheep up close, increase our flock knowledge and managing quality control.”

“Shearing is how we were all encouraged to earn a crust in our younger years so we could build our farm for the future – and while ever we’re looking to the future we’ll continue to do the work necessary.”

And with a new generation of Wise children now in the mix – Rick has three children and Kurt has four, all under six, there’ll be plenty of helping hands in the years to come.