Some of the Dorper flock on David Stade’s property at Katanning, Western Australia.
Dorper producer David Stade, Katanning, Western Australia, sees the remnants of his family’s legacy in the wool industry daily.
The two shearing sheds in working order on the 3000-hectare property are still in good condition and could easily be resurrected – in more recent times to take advantage of high wool pricing.
But the committed Dorper producer flatly refuses to consider the idea.
“Not in a heartbeat,” Mr Stade said.
He produces Dorpers in partnership with his brother, Geoff, on Hounsome. The operation is located 300km southeast of Perth, and includes a mix of lease and freehold country.
The bulk of the operation – some 70 per cent – is taken up with cropping; annuals including canola, wheat and barley, with lupin and oats added depending on conditions. The Dorper flock complements the cropping.
The family’s journey to become Dorper producers has been marked with challenges.
The property was once home to a thriving Merino flock, a legacy of Mr Stade’s father’s life as a shearer and wool producer.
Disgruntled with the wool industry, the family transitioned to Damara rams in the mid-1990s.
“Financially, it was a good deal. We were guaranteed $40 for entire lamb rams which was better than shipping money,” Mr Stade said.
The family increased their flock to 8,000 Damara ewes – and then the unthinkable happened.
In 2003, the live export trade was brought to a halt after Saudi Arabia rejected a shipment of 57,000 Western Australian sheep on board the MV Cormo Express.
While the Stades had no sheep on the vessel, they were victims of the fallout, with no alternative market for the 4000 Damara ram lambs during a temporary cessation of the export trade.
Unwilling to expose themselves to a similar experience, the family decided to transition into Dorpers.
“They are tough,” David said.
“We wanted animals that we didn’t have to worry about the intricacies of running a successful wool operation.
“A shedding sheep to start with and something that was tough and could fit in around the cropping program and make use of cropping stubble.”
The Stades join around 5000 ewes and aim to turn off Dorper lambs as quickly as possible, aged three to four months.
“Our most profitable avenue is selling wethers on to the boats,” Mr Stade said.
“We can sell animals earlier and lighter, which means we can carry more ewes if we aren’t carrying lambs for as long. So, we try turn them off onto boats at lighter weights.”
The Stades could be forgiven for thinking de ja vu is about to strike again.
Issues surrounding the live export trade from Western Australia have surfaced once again, but this time they’ve taken on a more sinister tone.
The Australian Government is pushing ahead with phase out live sheep exports “due to widespread concern in the Australian community around the animal welfare issues associated with this trade”.
“The government intervention into the live export trade has created uncertainty for the exporters,” Mr Stade said.
“There is a winter moratorium, with the last boat to leave at the end of May and then no boats until our winter is over.”
Mr Stade said the pending cessation of the live export trade would have far reaching implications for not just the sheep industry – including the wool industry which looks to offload wethers to the Middle Easter market – but also the grains industry, and cattle.
For the time being, its business as usual.
Mr Stade said the family had managed to increase carrying capacity, despite some challenges with lambing rates.
“Last year we turned off 7.5 lambs per hectare which is more than we have ever done,” he said.
“That’s where the money is – kilos sold per hectare.”
Mr Stade said the current shearing crisis had created animal welfare issues, motivating wool producers to look at alternatives.
Dorpers are the front runner of the shedding sheep breed, he said.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the future of the live export trade, Mr Stade believes the breed has a future in the west.
“The advantage of the Dorper is that they do well in feedlots and can be processed locally,” Mr Stade said.
“Live exporters love the Dorper because a live export boat is like a floating feedlot. We can do it on land – we will still have that option.”
“We participated in a weather trial with other local producers and our Dorpers excelled in both backgrounding and feedlotting.
“This gives us confidence that we could invest more time and resources into finishing lines of sheep for processing locally. “
Western Australia Dorper producer David Stade.
2023 DSSA Journal, Page 20