Livestock

Tough going, but familiar scene, in the lamb business

TEN POUND POM TURNED PRIME LAMB PRODUCER: Pratten landholder James Mead.
TEN POUND POM TURNED PRIME LAMB PRODUCER: Pratten landholder James Mead. Toni Somes

WHEN you survive the beef crash of the '70s and not one, but two wool price collapses, then droughts, floods and fluctuating lamb prices are simply par for the course.

Still there are days when Pratten prime lamb producer James Mead laments his decision to earn a quid in the bush.

If it were a matter of simple economics he says he and his wife Audrey would be better off selling up.

Yet this "ten pound pom" who arrived in 1961 has never been the sort to quit.

The Bush Tele caught up with the eloquently spoken landholder at Woodside, his 300 plus acre property, which runs along the Condamine River, near Pratten.

For the past seven years the couple have run a prime lamb operation turning off between 600 and 700 finished White Dorpers each year.

They lambs are bred on-property from a mob of 400 high quality Dorper ewes, which boast bloodlines from the Ettiwanda stud at Cobar.

"We use artificial manipulation, in other words oestrogen, to encourage our ewes to lamb every eight months," Mr Mead said.

The couple then finish their lambs on their 150 acres of lucerne under irrigation.

The lambs go onto improved pasture at 25kg and the Mead's aim for a 2.5kg a week weight gain turning them off at an ideal 46kg.

"To break even we would like to see producers making over $4/kg that's what I would call 'reasonable'."

But this year the market forces haven't worked in their favour with prices slipping under $3.80/kg.

"It is hard to take when you walk into the supermarket and lamb is for sale for anywhere from $8/kg to $23/kg," he said.

However he knows like the seasons there are some things primary producers can't influence.

"We'd love some rain, we haven't had much this season."

Yet he has certainly seen it drier.

Back in 1966 he was running Macunda Downs, a 700,000 acre property near Middleton in the State's North West.

"The average rainfall up there was 10 inches, but one year we only got two for the whole season."

And while prices may be in the doldrums it is not the first time he's survived market fluctuations.

He remembers during the beef slum selling steers for $13 a head at the Hamilton Hotel.

"That price was landed at Boulia and I had 20 decks of steers."

In the mid 1980s the couple and their four daughters left the North West for a stint farming near Emerald.

Later they shifted to Glen Innes, before relocating to their current home between Bony Mountain and Pratten.

"You know I arrived here as a ten pound pom and my first job was as a jackeroo along the Maranoa.

"So I guess I haven't done to badly.

"But sometimes you know you feel like you are on a treadmill, you can't reduce your operation because your need to cover your expenses."

He smiles before adding: "We did very well in the west, but we have had a terrible time ever since.

"You'd have to ask why we do it."

Topics:  lambs livestock sheep



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