Wool marketing change pays dividends for Coleraine grower

A FEW changes to his wool marketing strategy have made all the difference for Victorian farmer Matthew Fitzgerald.

Matthew’s property, ‘Denhills’, spans about 485 hectares at Coleraine, north-west of Hamilton in the Southern Grampians.

It’s here that Matthew runs a livestock enterprise, comprising 2000 Merinos (including lambs) and about 150 Poll Hereford cattle.

He also crops a small area, including 12ha of barley this year and a few paddocks sown with a mixture of ryegrass and clover for hay production.

The property has an average annual rainfall of around 700 millimetres, and while this season got off to a tough start, recent rains have lifted the potential.

Matthew has been farming for almost 20 years and has largely followed in his father’s footsteps, albeit with a few adjustments.

“I haven’t changed a great deal, but that’s because it was working well so I’ve largely continued what Dad was doing,” Matthew said.

The majority of the sheep are run in a self-replacing Merino flock, with around 800-900 younger ewes joined to Merino rams, while older ewes are mated to Poll Dorset rams to produce prime lambs.

“We have the self-replacing Merino flock, but then we’re also getting the fat lambs and still get a reasonable fleece of wool off the older ewes,” Matthew said.

“It just allows us to hit both markets.”

The ‘Denhills’ Merino flock was based on genetics from Fernleigh Merino stud at Glenthompson, which has since ceased operation.

In search of similar traits, Matthew was drawn to the Koolevale Merino stud, Costerfield, and the Kalenea Poll Merino stud, Penshurst.

“I like a good, solid frame – not too big but not too small, with a medium 19-21 micron fleece and nice bright, white wool,” he said.

Both the older and younger Merino ewes are joined in the last week of December for a mid-late May lambing.

This season the lambing percentages for the Merinos joined to Merinos came in at 103 per cent.

The Merinos joined to Poll Dorsets are usually higher, but were similar this year due to a tough season.

While he prefers a minimal interference approach with the sheep, Matthew does ensure the ewes are well looked after and in prime condition prior to joining, with supplementary feeding.

Young lambs are also grain fed prior to weaning and are supplementary fed three times a week throughout the summer.

Matthew has also started concentrating more strongly on improving pastures on the property and is considering taking on more land if the opportunity arises, with the potential to increase cropping capabilities.

“I just like to make sure that they are well looked after, without handling them too much,” he said.

“I’m mindful of not overstocking either, which I think helps.

“The Merinos, particularly this breed that are more multi-purpose, seem to handle the tough conditions a bit better.

Shearing occurs in September and Matthew said they produced 40-50 bales each year, at 19-21 micron.

He has been working with Quality Wool for his wool marketing for the past three years, linking up closely with local representative Brett Johnson, who covers the Avoca, Beaufort, Amiptheatre, Lexton, Reglan and Elmhurst areas.

Matthew has known Brett for more than 10 years and speaks to him regularly, so he knows he can trust the advice that is offered.

Making a change to who markets the wool clip may not seem like a big deal, but it’s already paid dividends as far as Matthew is concerned.

“We would always just hold our wool until mid to late May because we didn’t need the cash flow and the market used to spike, but with Brett, we’ve changed the strategy slightly,” Matthew said.

“I’ve thought about forward contracts, but I don’t know enough about it yet so it’s something I’ll discuss with Brett as to whether it would be worthwhile.

“I largely leave the marketing plan up to him, because I trust him and he knows what he’s doing – he’s switched on when it comes to this.

“This year, I think he’s made us an extra $10,000 by selling slightly earlier than usual and just playing the market more than we usually would.

“It’s certainly handy to have that. Previous agents we’ve used have never offered to do anything like that for us. It was just a standard service, so I’ve really noticed a difference since making the switch,’’ he said.