Positive outlook puts farm on right track

WHEN it comes to life, Bruce Rae is a down-to-earth country bloke with a philosophical outlook.

“Health and happiness, that’s all I want for my life and my children,” he explained.

“I think you have to stay upright and enjoy every day; the rest can work itself out.”

It’s an approach that has seen him through a lifetime on the land, in an industry he loves.

The primary producer, from Surrey at Bungunya, is the third generation of his family to work the land in south-west Queensland.

His ancestors bought the property a century ago. Back then it was 15,000 acres of wool growing country along the Weir River.

In 1926 his grandfather and great uncle split the holding into Surrey (7000ac) and Windamall (8000ac).

When Bruce and his brother Alan finished school they took over the two properties and, with their father until this year, ran them together.

“In our grandfather’s time it was all sheep. We bought cattle in during the 1960s and then in the 1980s we went into farming,” Bruce said. “Today the Surrey enterprise is about a third merinos, a third cattle and a third cropping.”

When the Rural Weekly caught up with the Raes, they had just finished shearing.

Traditionally they have shorn in June but they started a month early this year to fit in with the shearing team, a broader property schedule and a drier than usual season.

Despite there being just 11 months worth of wool, Bruce described this year’s 19-micron clip as “excellent and some of the nicest wool” he has seen in years.

“The fact is sheep are great foragers, they do better when things are dry than they do when the grass is three foot high,” Bruce said.

“And I am really excited about our wool this year.

“Going on current wool prices we could get close to 1000c/kg greasy, which equates to $1700 or $1800 a bale for good fleece wool.

“These are some of the highest prices we’ve seen in 20 years.”

He said the price rises were being driven by a low Australian dollar and a shortage of wool globally.

The Raes will sell their wool in Sydney this week and given the positives – the quality of this year’s clip and the buoyant market – they are tempted to make their first trip ever south to watch the auction.

“We realise it will be over in five minutes, but if there was ever a time to be there I think this could be the year,” he laughed.

It will be a welcome change of fortune for Bruce and his wife Ros, who have hand-fed their merino flock at some point every year for the past 14 years.

“We like to keep our stock in good condition so we’ve supplemented with cotton seed and faba beans every season since 2000.

“It can be an expensive exercise and if you can do it, you do it, and stock rewards you with a better wool clip or more calves and more lambs.”

Yet experience has taught Bruce it’s also easier to feed sheep than the hereford-angus cross cattle he runs.

It was a harsh fact that forced Bruce and his brother Alan onto the stock route with a mob this year and fortunately they found agistment on a property near Goondiwindi just a few weeks into the trip.

“We had a dry season at home, but there were good pockets of feed around so we were very fortunate, because 80% of Queensland was looking for agistment.”

Rain in March allowed them to bring the cattle home as well as plant – over the two properties – some 7000ac of chickpeas, wheat, barley and forage oats.

“We do run a mixed operation nowadays,” Bruce explained.

“For 30 years Alan and I worked the country together, at one stage we were shearing 5000 to 6000 head, but when we split up this year we ended up with about 1000 grown sheep and their progeny each.”

The brothers run predominately merino wool growers, but cross a small number of ewes each year with crossbred ram, the progeny of which they sell as prime lambs finished on oats direct to Fletchers in Dubbo.

The wool operation is complemented by 100 head of cattle, the progeny of which are sold – in a good season – direct to slaughter or in a tougher year into the feedlot sector.

“Things are okay out here at the moment, but we could really do with some follow-up rain to get the crops we’ve got in the ground off to a good start.

“But we honestly can’t complain. We’re in a lot better position than a lot of landholders in Queensland at the moment.”