NEW FOCUS: Tim Koch, Waterloo, opted to not sow crops this year and focused on the sheep market instead. He plans to increase the self-replacing Merino flock numbers in coming years.

Quality fleece takes priority at Waterloo

Putting trust in Mother Nature this season was not an option for Waterloo producer Tim Koch, so instead of cropping his usual rotation of 800 hectares, he decided to focus solely on the self-replacing Merino flock. 

Running 2000 breeding ewes with his father Peter, and in a good season an extra 1000 lambs, Tim said he hoped to increase production throughout the next two years. 

"Sheep are our focus because at the moment it is more reliable than cropping," he said.

"There is less risk involved and you are not dictated by rainfall and weather conditions as much as in cropping.

"The cost of broadacre production has increased too much, the expenditure on chemicals to control pests and disease are too high."

The flock has been based on Glenville bloodlines for the past two seasons, but traditionally the Koches’ used genetics from Barton Hill stud at Burra. 

"Barton Hill’s genetics helped build frame and quality dual-purpose traits," he said.

Tim also praised the benefits of sticking with Merino sheep as a dual-purpose breed instead of making the switch to crossbreds. 

He believed the extra work involved with Merinos was worth it.

"We get a benefit of quality wool and meat with the prices to match," he said. 

"There is a trend of going into crossbreds for fast growth and not worrying too much about cutting a quality fleece, but I think there is a bit of risk in that. 

"We might have to hold onto lambs and feed for longer but it is not really much of a trade-off given the wool benefit is there."

To help ewes produce lambs that reach market specifications, nutrition is also a focus.

The Koches are working with Farmer Johns, Nuriootpa, to enhance pasture quality.

Tim said about half of the property would eventually be transformed into lucerne production.

"We are growing lucerne but we want to have enough to put the ewes and lambs onto it when they need it most," he said.

"Most years we put ewes on stubble at joining but we also do a lot of trail feeding with grain and hay."

THE season’s testing weather conditions had the Koches feeding sheep for longer because of the late start, but the upside was lambing in warmer conditions. 

Ewes were fed for about four months instead of two to lessen the risk of lower milk supply for the new season’s lambs. 

In recent years, Tim has further diversified the family farm with the addition of 45 Angus cows. 

“An extra backup of income if sheep prices drop cannot hurt,” he said. 

BRIGHT, white wool with a superfine micron is the direction Tim Koch and his father Peter, Waterloo, have taken their Merino flock, and it is returning rewards. 

The self-replacing flock with an average 20-micron fleece is shorn in October and Tim said this year’s shearing was impacted by the wool industry reaching a peak. 

“We always try to shear in October but this year it was later because we couldn't get shearers,” he said.

“They were snowed under with work in the South East and we ended up getting shearers to come up from Port Augusta.”

The superfine wool market is the flavour of the month, Tim says, and this has prompted a goal to lower their flock’s average wool micron.

“Our ram source, Glenville, have a lower micron fibre so we hope after a few more seasons utilising the genetics we could reach the superfine market easily,” Tim said.

“The return is there so it is worth the work to get the micron lower.” 

The Koches average fleece weight is five kilograms and is sold annually through a woolbroker after the Christmas period.

To further increase wool production, ewes that do not produce a lamb are not culled from the flock, but are instead kept as wool producers. 

“The wool is important to us and a ewe that does not produce a lamb still has its worth,” Tim said. 

“We sell about 500 older ewes each year in February after they have been shorn and about 500 lambs as well.”