Hamish’s ewe lease on life

Zach RelphCountryman
Kojonup sheep producer Hamish Thorn has lifted lambing percent from performance bred genetics out of Ultra White and Kojak no-shearing breeds.
Camera IconKojonup sheep producer Hamish Thorn has lifted lambing percent from performance bred genetics out of Ultra White and Kojak no-shearing breeds. Credit: Bob Garnant

For Hamish Thorn, moving back to Kojonup to oversee the livestock operation of his family’s mixed-grain and sheep farm was a logical decision.

The 34-year-old graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the University of WA, and worked as an environmental officer before moving to Victoria and completing a Master of Environment.

After finishing studies at the University of Melbourne about seven years ago, Mr Thorn wanted to return to his Great Southern roots and decided to immerse himself in WA agriculture.

“I got to my late 20s, thought about my options, and thought ‘farming is a good, balanced life’,” he said.

“Farming was everything I was looking for in a job and I had the option to do it, so I did.”

The Thorns’ farming enterprise is spread across four properties near Kojonup and about 4800ha.

Mr Thorn, parents Geoff and Wendy, and brothers Lachlan and Rohan, manage daily operations.

Since returning to the Great Southern, Mr Thorn has been focusing on livestock, co-ordinating 6000 breeding ewes.

Neighbour Craig Heggaton’s Kojak bloodline and UltraWhite genetics from Dawson Bradford, of Hillcroft stud near Narrogin, are used within the flock to produce a wool shedding-composite meat sheep.

Mr Thorn said the breeding choices allowed the family to deviate away from wool and establish a meat-focused business.

“We looked for fast-maturing, fast-growing and fertile sheep for prime lamb,” he said.

“We’ve eliminated the need for a shearing shed, crutching, mulesing and everything else that comes with wool.

“As a mixed livestock-cropping operation, we wanted to simplify things to reduce the jobs we had to do.”

Mr Thorn is experimenting with fitted electronic identification tags on his flocks to record weaning and post-weaning weights in an attempt to aid breeding selection.

He said applying different techniques to ensure ewes were healthy and fertile was critical to breeding and minimising lamb loss.

“We want to select the best breeding ewes — the ones that are growing fast and bearing twins,” he said.

“Sheep breeding is definitely interesting, and something I am interested in ... I do a lot of research to make gains every year to ensure the lambing percentage is steadily increasing.”

WA’s lamb producers are enjoying mouthwatering lamb prices, with strong results from the sale yards amid a dwindling supply.

The buying power exerted at auctions led to the State’s lamb price record tumbling in consecutive weeks, after a line of 54 SAMM ram lambs was sold for $289 a head at the Katanning Regional Saleyards on June 5.

It beat the previous best, set seven days earlier when a pen of 38 White Suffolk-Merino crossbred lambs attracted $260 a head.

Analysts are tipping lamb prices to settle leading into winter after the rampant saleyard buying, with the volatile commodity to stabilise in years to come and avoid its usual stark price-drop following a quick rise.

Mr Thorn said he was confident the lamb market would remain strong and producers were poised to maximise the meat’s fattened value.

“Sheep meat is holding its own — the value is there,” he said.

“I think it’s promising and there definitely seems to be a lot of confidence about.”

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