South Burnett family choose a life among the lambs
The Sloan family never imagined they would own sheep, let alone a sheep stud. In fact, owning sheep would never have crossed their minds if not for some overgrown grass that needed controlling.
Now, almost a decade on, Michael and Amanda Sloan, along with their daughters Shayli, 6, and Chloe, 4, spend each day surrounded by sheep on their 65ha Dorper stud near Kingaroy.
As a registered stud for just two years, Shayloe Dorpers is new to the game, but the family's passion for the breed and enthusiasm to grow their stud makes for a winning combination.
THE Sloans were first introduced to Dorpers about seven years ago when caring for Mrs Sloan's grandmother on a rural residential block in Kingaroy. They decided to try their hand at sheep to keep the grass under control.
"We couldn't have cows or horses in town, so we thought 'let's try some sheep'," Mrs Sloan said.
"We got our first five sheep living at my grandmother's and became more and more interested in the Dorper breed from there."
The Dorpers made a lasting impression on the Sloans, living up to their reputation as a low-maintenance breed, and they kept the sheep when they returned to their family farm.
With their shedding ability, Dorpers do not require shearing, mulesing, crutching or tail docking, and they are non-selective grazers, bred to survive in harsh conditions.
Dorpers are also highly fertile, producing fast-growing lambs, and can breed year-round at lambing intervals of little more than six months, which is a big win for productivity.
DORPERS WITH A DIFFERENCE
THE Sloans are passionate about breeding good-quality sheep for their commercial program, selling to producers and other studs both locally and interstate.
"We only want quality animals leaving here, it's something we're really passionate about," Mrs Sloan said.
"The idea is so they're able to go to any area of Australia and perform their best."
The Sloans pride themselves on their sheep management practices, particularly their choice to not dock their lambs' tails.
"We try to keep our sheep management practices as low stress as possible," Mrs Sloan said. "Tail docking can cause stress to a lamb and set them back in their growth and opens them up to potential infection.
"Because it isn't a necessity with Dorpers, we decided several years ago to no longer dock the tails of all our sheep.
"As a result of them keeping their tails we have had no issues with flies or flystrike, there are no problems when a ewe lambs, the rams can still do their job, and it also gives the sheep sun protection."
RAMS AND LAMBS
SHAYLOE Dorpers has two stud rams in its breeding program - Floyd from Tuckeroo Stud, NSW, and Zeus from Dell Dorpers, NSW.
Classed as a type four ram, Floyd placed fourth in his class at the National Show in 2018 and has impressive genetics.
"Floyd is a big ram, he's solid, well built, he's everything that you want," Mrs Sloan said.
Purchased by Shayloe Dorpers at the National Show last year, where he placed third in his class, Zeus is classed a type five ram. With the show held in Toowoomba last year, Mr Sloan said they were lucky to pick up such quality genetics on their doorstep, with breeders from across Australia attending the show and sale.
Zeus is the son of Dell Dipstick, who won Reserve Champion Ram at the 2016 National Show, and great-grandson of Dell Baby Doll III, the only Dorper ewe to win National Supreme Exhibit twice in a row.
"We've only had one lot of lambs out of him so far and they all turned out pretty impressive, so we're pretty happy with them," Mrs Sloan said.
She said quality genetics and proven bloodlines were an important base for the stud.
"You want to know you've got proven bloodlines - you know your lambs are going to perform, you're going to get that growth and performance from them," Mrs Sloan said.
"A lot of our ewes are type four and type five ewes as well. We've tried to source quality bloodlines on both sides so the lambs we're getting are going to grow, they're going to perform, they're going to do what you expect them to."
"This lambing will be probably a good test because it's our first proper test with all our own sheep and our own ideas," Mr Sloan said.
Mrs Sloan said lambing was a busy time on the stud as they monitored newborn lambs and expecting ewes.
"The mums and bubs are checked constantly throughout the day. We are checking for any new lambs that may have been born, ensuring any ewes that are birthing aren't having trouble," she said.
"Lambs are curious so sometimes they get themselves in precarious situations, like stuck on the wrong side of the fence, so we need to go and put them back with mum.
"And we are always on the lookout for predators - dogs, foxes and eagles. A new baby lamb is an easy target. Although we have invested in our fencing, you never let your guard down."
LIKE countless other producers across the state, Shayloe Dorpers was hit hard by the drought. With limited water and feed availability, the stud had to source fodder from Rockhampton and started carting water a few weeks before the rain.
"It certainly hurt our hip pocket and you can understand how some of these bigger guys who depend solely on the money they make from their farm, how that can be a real struggle … It was only the fact that we had a job that we could afford to buy the fodder at the time, otherwise we might have had to scale down a bit," Mr Sloan said.
The stud received only about a quarter of its average yearly rainfall in all of 2019, and combined with an extremely hot summer, things dried up very quickly and stayed dry until January this year, when it finally got rain.
"The drought isn't over but that relentless dry was very hard," Mrs Sloan said.
"We would constantly be watching the radar, willing rain bands and storms to come this way, but they always just missed us.
"When it finally did rain earlier this year you couldn't wipe the smile off our faces. It was such a sense of relief, especially once you started seeing the change in the ground cover in the paddock and the transformation from brown to green."Despite tough conditions, Mrs Sloan said the Dorpers held their condition, with the majority of the flock performing exceptionally under the extremely dry circumstances.
Mrs Sloan said they had tried to turn the drought into a learning opportunity and look at ways to improve their systems and droughtproof the farm for the future. The family hopes to continue growing the stud, with a goal to build their flock to 200-300 sheep.
"The hope would be that one day one of us may be able to give up our full-time job and just focus on the stud. We're a little way off that yet, but you've got to start somewhere and that's what we're doing," Mr Sloan said.
Find the stud at facebook.com/shayloedorperstud