Ag in my Land is an online series that celebrates farming globally, providing an insight in to what life is like on-farm around the world.
In Western Australia, Simon Emmott farms sheep in a climate that isn’t always kind.
Tell us about the location and size of your farm?
The farm is sat in the wheatbelt of Western Australia, 200km North of East Perth near a town called Dowerin.
We farm approximately eight to twelve thousand Merino sheep depending on lambing and sales, on 9,600 hectares (23,000 acres).
The sheep are dual purpose for wool and meat, but we also cross the oldest mob of ewes with Hampshire rams to produce lambs for meat and the rest of the land is arable land, used for the following:
Can you describe the scenery of your location?
The area is vast, open.
We are surrounded by scenic ancient landscape – there is an abundance of barren ground stretching for miles and miles around.
Of course, during the summer, the land is full of brown plants but after rain, green ones appear.
The best thing about living here is the sunsets.
The sunsets are just amazing to see.
How does the climate affect you?
We have a semi-arid climate here, almost Mediterranean.
The summers are very hot and dry and the winters cool with, if we’re lucky, some rain.
It gets pretty dusty over summer and the growing season is roughly May to October. Sometimes, but rarely, it doesn’t rain at all between November and April.
Occasionally it can rain during the summer months and summer weeds grow. Although this can be OK for sheep feed, they’re promptly sprayed out to leave water and nutrients available for winter crops.
It has never snowed here however I believe there was a light sprinkle in 1956!
Temperatures often reach over 40 degrees Celsius in summer and frosts occur sporadically in late winter/early spring.
In order to make the most of opening rains, minimum tillage techniques are used on crops. This involves spraying out any weeds and applying pre-emergent herbicides.
Due to ancient soil types, minimal cultivation also prevents erosion.
Sheep are left out in the paddocks all year, only requiring trees for shelter and hand feeding is carried out using hay and lupins before the opening rains have enabled enough pasture growth.
What does a typical day consist of?
The work is very seasonal however sheep watering points need to be checked every few days.
Checking sheep, maintaining machinery, fencing, sorting, moving and feeding sheep, spraying pests and weeds are just the usual daily activities but obviously harvest season is always full on.
How do you go about moving thousands of sheep? Do you have help?
Organisation is the key. I personally try to use low stress stock handling techniques. A good dog is also extremely helpful. Working sheep in the cooler parts of the day, driving them into the wind (so they can smell water and predators) and thinking like a sheep can make things easier than solely relying on revving the motor or beeping the horn. Occasionally a large amount of circle-work can occur when trying to get stock to go through what they think is a corner or a formerly closed gate, which you’ve just opened for them. That same gate would be so inviting for them to traverse if the wind had blown it open and they went of their own accord.
In terms of help we have had a major change in the operations recently, with a neighbour increasing their sharecropping on our farm. They put in the canola and wheat whilst we still do the lupins and barley. We have the equivalent of two full-time employees, plus myself and my uncle all throughout the year. When it comes to shearing and other livestock operations, we can take on up to seven extra casuals. A couple of extra people are employed during seeding and harvest but large machines make this efficient.
What is you biggest obstacle?
The weather plays a huge part in the running of the farm and the health of the sheep.
The merino sheep are practically bred for this climate but in early spring when the temperature rises and the wind drops off, humidity sets in. The many species of blowflies awaken from their dormancy or arrive from elsewhere and their larvae (maggots) can infest dirty parts of the sheep.