January is generally the quietest month of the year on Redwing. Summer spraying takes place to preserve subsoil moisture and sheep are checked regularly for flies. Otherwise it’s time for BBQ’s at the beach, a bit of fishing and some relaxation!
Feed becomes low in the paddocks, so the lambs are bought into the feedlot and are fed grain and hay to fatten them up for market. There are usually about six to eight hundred lambs in the feedlot at this time. The mature sheep are sent out on agistment to properties which only crop, as they still have plenty of feed left after the summer months. Summer spraying continues and fences are bought up to scratch for the year ahead. Some paddocks have straw from the previous year’s crop which will need to be slashed.
The mature sheep are trucked home from the agistment properties and shearing of the ewes and rams takes place in the last week of March. Approximately eight hundred ewes and two hundred rams are shorn over the course of seven days. It is a long, hard week and the boys always pray it’s not a heatwave! The feedlot keeps us busy in March - the continual feeding of high numbers of lambs being very labour intensive. Stones are rolled in various paddocks to prevent wear and tear on machinery later in the year. Occasionally stones are ‘picked’ if they are too hard to roll. This happens mainly at the two coastal properties.
April means it’s time to clean the seed collected from the previous year’s crop, which has been stored in silos over the summer. Clean seed needs to be ready for seeding. Maintenance is done on the sprayers, tractors and air-seeder in preparation for seeding. Spraying of paddocks may be necessary if there has been rain in March or April to help preserve moisture in the soil. Historically farmers hope for an ‘opening rain’ between Anzac Day and the middle of May. This signals the beginning of seeding. Sheep feed is sown at the end of April and soil tests are conducted to test nitrogen and sulphur levels in the other paddocks.
Weather permitting, seeding of crops begins on the coastal properties in the first week of May. Mainly wheat is sown on these properties. Once these are completed, the two inland properties are sown. Seeding is generally finished by the middle of June, however weather and machinery problems can affect this. If you are staying at Redwing during seeding there will be early starts and large machinery moving around the property regularly.
Seeding is completed. Farmers now have time to get a haircut and have a shave! Weighing of the lambs that are left in the feedlot begins and any lambs over forty-five kilos are sent to market. Farmers get $3-$5 per kilo of lamb, showing how much the supermarkets mark up lamb chops! In late June crops are fertilised to ensure nitrogen levels are high enough. This allows for better growth, yield and protein.
Spraying begins on the majority of the land to wipe weeds out of growing crops. Ewes begin lambing and you may get to see an orphaned lamb being bottle fed at Redwing around this time! We hope to get between eighty and one hundred percent lambing from the eight hundred ewes on the property. A flat steel roller is used to push the stones down in the lentil paddocks. This is done as lentils are such a short crop that the harvester will hit any higher stones.
Spraying of all paddocks continues daily. The ewes are bought in for ‘crutching’ – removing the wool around the sheep’s backside to prevent flystrike. The annual ram sale is held for the Merino Stud on the property. One hundred rams are sold, with each ram fetching between $400 and $1200. The majority of rams are sold to properties north of Port Augusta or to Broken Hill.
New lambs are bought in to be tagged and vaccinated. Crops start being sprayed for funguses, which can develop with a wet, humid spring. Spraying around the house yards takes place to remove weeds, grasses etc. and minimise the risk of fire later in the year. September is a crucial month for rain as it is basically the difference between a good year and a bad year in crop yields.
The header is bought out of the sheds and sent into the local mechanic for a service in preparation for harvest. Pasture ground is sprayed out to prevent weeds from setting seed. All sheep are ‘jetted’ to prevent flystrike.
Harvest begins and farmers hope for clear weather with no early heatwaves or northerly winds. These factors contribute to high risk fire danger and farmers have water carts on hand too for dangerous situations that can occur. The two coastal properties are harvested first as they dry out quicker. Redwing yields on average between three and five tonne to the hectare for cereal crops. Lentils yield between one and three tones to the hectare. Barley may be windrowed to prevent the wind blowing the seed out of the heads.
Harvest is completed hopefully in time for Christmas. During harvest the farmers work for roughly fourteen hours a day, four weeks straight. Wives are tired of maintaining the homesteads, running food out at all hours and having grumpy, tired husbands! When harvest is complete things wind down and everyone enjoys a relaxed few weeks of summer!