The role of women on Australia’s sheep properties is no longer confined to baking scones for the shearers, but in embracing all aspects of the business.
Modern female sheep producers are often leading the uptake of new technology and data management systems developed by the likes of the Sheep Cooperative Research Centre (Sheep CRC), which inform many management and breeding decisions made in the business.
Vicki Murphy, Karbullah Poll Merino Stud, Goondiwindi, Queensland, is typical of the new breed of experts.
She believes that collaborative approach taken with her husband Mark is leading to better quality sheep and a more profitable business.
“The only things I don’t do are drive the tractor and shear the sheep. Everything else I do plus the office work,” Mrs Murphy said.
“Mark and I work together as a very effective team. It has to be a joint effort because there is so much more involved in farming these days.
“But it has made us better managers as well. And because a lot of women do the computer work, they have better handle on the business than ever before.
“There are so many inspirational women in the industry and they really make a difference to their businesses because they are so involved.”
Mrs Murphy plays a key role in data management that is the basis of performance recording in their stud flock. With 1000 breeding ewes, plus 300 replacement ewes which come into the system each year, there is a lot of information to keep track of.
Mark Murphy said his wife’s contribution in this area was invaluable.
“Her computer skills and attention to detail make all the difference in this critical component of the business,” he said.
The volumes of data recorded include lambs’ weaning weights, wool weight, scans for eye muscle area and fat coverage, body wrinkle, and ram scrotal size. At lambing information collected includes mothering ability, whether a ewe has delivered single or multiple lambs, the dam and sire pedigree of each animal, plus other physical attributes. All data is submitted to MERINOSELECT and its Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) assist in ram and ewe selection.
“You’ve just got to stay on top of these records,” Mrs Murphy said.
“By knowing our maternal genetics better we can fast track our meat production as part of our Merino wool operation.
“Effective use of measurement and associated data has made it quicker to get to where we needed to be with our flock performance and what the Sheep CRC is now doing with genotyping will just make it that much quicker again because we’ll be able to identify young rams with the traits that we require.
“By utilising state of the art breeding programs our sheep have become hardier, raring more twins and showing a better tolerance of worms.”
Like Vicki Murphy, a combination of necessity and choice was behind the strong involvement of Ann Hammat in the running of the Baderloo Poll Merino Stud, Spalding, South Australia.
“I just love what I’m doing and I will never change,” Mrs Hammat said.
“My husband Phil is a fourth generation farmer and, with our passion for breeding better Merinos, we established the stud in 2000.
“We are partners and happily work together in all aspects of the farm and stud.
“Women have got a lot to offer the business by getting involved. Times are changing – more young girls are studying different aspects of agriculture and getting involved than did the women in our generation, which is wonderful.”
With just the two of them to run the property, there are few jobs which Ann is not involved in, from lamb marking and mustering, to performance recording, data collection and submission to MERINOSELECT, classing and financial management.
Full pedigree recording for the lambs of all 900 stud ewes, is a major undertaking and Mrs Hammat’s skill in collecting this and other data, and then entering the data onto the computer, makes a major contribution to genetic improvement for growth rates and wool quality and other traits. The improved genetics is then passed on to their clients.
“By working as a team I have a really good understanding of the everyday running of the farm, the stock, and our finances,” Mrs Hammat said.
“Good communication is the key to our successful partnership that has seen us working side by side for the last 30 years and improving our farm and sheep to where it is today.”
Both Mrs Hammat and Mrs Murphy, who work off-farm as well, agreed education and training programs would only lead to greater involvement of women on sheep farms, which would result in a better industry.
“It makes you feel like the industry is going places because there are all of these young people who are wanting to come in and use the information that’s around to improve the standard of the sheep and wool industry,” Mrs Murphy said.