Kangaroo Island bounces back 14 May

John Symons, daughter Hannah and granddaughter Celine in the new shed at Turkey Lane.

If anyone needed a reminder of just how resilient and optimistic people are within the wool industry, look no further than ‘Turkey Lane’ on Kangaroo Island in South Australia.

In just one year, the Merino operation that was running 6,000 sheep on 530 hectares on the western side of the island has gone from being burnt out with devastating results to now having a new woolshed, new fencing and new optimism towards the industry.

Kangaroo Island is famous for its fine wool production and there is a good reason for that. Merino wool is the highest value per kilogram agricultural product that can be grown on the island, a place that relies heavily on the ferry with the mainland and therefore producing wool reduces the relatively high transport cost incurred.

In January last year, Kangaroo Island suffered a horrific bushfire that broke all the rules as it savaged the western side of the island and destroyed 57,000 sheep. Turkey Lane Merinos lost almost half of all its sheep including 100% of the ram team, a near complete wipeout of weaners and 60% of nucleus flock pedigree ewes; the wool shed burnt down as well as the homestead not to mention all fencing.

At the time John Symons said his lifetime’s work had been destroyed and questioned whether he could in fact recover, but the family operation has recovered strongly over the following 12 months, despite the pressures of a global pandemic.

John’s daughter Hannah says they were able to get through thanks to plenty of help and support of community, family and friends.

“We can’t change what happened, but we’ve picked ourselves up and we are now looking into the future with great optimism,” she said.

With ram lambs surviving the fire, they were intensively fed to use for mating and sold well in November. The hospital flock of 1,100 sheep or nearly a third of flock ewes were also nurtured back to health. The 96% conception rate last year proved what a great job the family did getting the flock back on track.

Having been part of the Balmoral Sire Evaluation for many years has been a great way for the operation to gain feedback about its genetics.

The biggest challenge now for the closed flock is to build up numbers over the next few years to full capacity again. Lifetime Ewe Management skills that Hannah has acquired coupled with John’s lifetime experience makes for a great combination.

Turkey Lane has recently carried out its first shearing in the new woolshed which went well.

“We didn’t have a lot of time to research new shed designs so we used the AWI design and it’s working really well; it’s been a big improvement with a lot of little things adding up to a shed that works well,” Hannah explained.

Shearers and crutchers were hard to find and Turkey Lane used the AWI two-stand shearing trailer for some crutching prior to the new shed being completed.

“A lot of people have been able to use the trailer which has been a big help but hopefully people are slowly getting sheds and infrastructure back now,” Hannah said.

“We know the wool industry has its ups and downs but we are really positive about the future. One of the many things I like about growing wool is the ability track progress so we do a lot of testing, weighing and benchmarking and having this driving our flock forward is really exciting.”

Free shearing shed blueprints

Free shearing shed blueprints

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The first shearing in the new shed at ‘Turkey Lane’.

The shed design that was used at ‘Turkey Lane’ (and by many other woolgrowers across Australia) was developed in 2019 by AWI with the guidance of a shearing industry working group.

The shearing shed design aims to improve the efficiency of workers and the flow of livestock – while optimising worker safety, animal welfare and the quality of wool preparation.

The design was developed following extensive industry consultation with shearers, wool handlers, classers and woolgrowers, plus reviews of existing working sheds. Multiple trials led to refinements and a final design.

The internal fit-out, incorporating the stands and yards, has been designed to have its own structural integrity so can be built within any suitable pre-existing shell.

The blueprints of the shed’s design (technical drawings for a six-stand shearing shed, plus the floor plan for working group member Hilton Barrett’s ‘Arrow Park’ shearing shed, the first built from the designs) and a video about the design process are available free on the AWI website at www.wool.com/sheddesign.

This article appeared in the March 2021 edition of AWI’s Beyond the Bale magazine. Reproduction of the article is encouraged, however prior permission must be obtained from the Editor.

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