Kings are happy to roll the farming dice

Kings are happy to roll the farming dice

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Brothers Hayden (centre left) and Daniel King (centre right) with Daniel's son, Zac and daughter, Bronte. Hayden and Daniel run their 3000 hectare sheep and cropping farm at Calingiri with their brother Ash and father Murray.

Brothers Hayden (centre left) and Daniel King (centre right) with Daniel's son, Zac and daughter, Bronte. Hayden and Daniel run their 3000 hectare sheep and cropping farm at Calingiri with their brother Ash and father Murray.

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Yields last year on the King family's 3000 hectare cropping and sheep farm were about half of that of their 2018 harvest.

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YIELDS last year on the King family's 3000 hectare cropping and sheep farm were about half of that of their 2018 harvest.

A third-generation farmer, Daniel King runs the Calingiri property with his father Murray and two younger brothers, Ash and Hayden.

"My granddad, Cliff, started the main farm back in 1965, which he split with his brother," Mr King said.

"Granddad's brother kept the original homestead, which we bought back off him in 1995.

"Initially the farm was about 500ha, but we expanded the operations, purchasing another two farms."

With the property two-thirds cropping and one-third sheep, Mr King said although their yields were below average, they were happy with the results considering the limited amount of rainfall they had received.

"We only had 220 millimetres for the growing season, compared to an average of about 450mm," he said.

"So it was quite surprising what we were actually able to harvest with only half of our average rainfall."

Mr King attributed the result to changes over the year from conventional farming methods, including the move to no-till farming.

With 100mm of rain falling in just over three weeks, the farm received half of its rainfall in June, causing some of its machinery to get bogged.

However the rest of the growing season, including the finish, was quite dry, with only 20mm of rain received in October and 18mm in September.

Daniel and Hayden King shear their 4500 Merino flock every 8-9 months and were shearing their ewes when Farm Weekly visited last week.

Daniel and Hayden King shear their 4500 Merino flock every 8-9 months and were shearing their ewes when Farm Weekly visited last week.

"Double that would have been nice," Mr King said.

With a cropping ratio of 1000-1200ha of wheat, 300-400ha of canola, 300-400ha of barley and 200ha of lupins the farm averaged 2.7 tonnes a hectare wheat, 1.5t/ha canola, 2.7t/ha barley and 1.8t/ha lupins.

Compare that to a record year in 2018 where the farm yielded 4.5t/ha wheat, 5t/ha barley, 2.7t/ha canola and 2.8t/ha lupins.

Over the past couple of years the family has changed its cropping rotations, decreasing its barley crop due to the increased market risk posed by China's ongoing anti-dumping investigation.

"In 2018 we had 700ha of barley, we dropped that to 400ha last year and this year we're going to decrease that number by a bit more," Mr King said.

"We will keep a fair bit for sheep feed, like we have done the past couple of years, so we're always going to grow it (barley).

"But rather than having a heap of barley that's worth nothing, we will replace those hectares with wheat, which will hopefully be worth a bit, like it was last year."

Mr King said they had a below-average year for their barley because it lacked weight, with only one load going as malt.

"Some of it was only just enough, weight wise, to go into feed and talking to people in our area that seemed to be a common issue," Mr King said.

"We didn't hold back on the nitrogen levels last year, so the protein was too high and we had the same issue with our wheat.

"All of our noodle wheat went Noodles, bar about 200t, with some of it up to 15 per cent protein."

With the majority of last season's noodle wheat Zen and the rest Scepter, Mr King said they would be growing more Devil wheat this year.

"We bulked it up last year and it was out-yielding just about everything we had, so we will stick with it for the 2020 season," he said.

The quality of their canola crop was a bit down from last year, averaging 46pc oil.

Not having swathed for about 10 years, Mr King said it was just an extra cost they chose to avoid.

"We have our own SP sprayers, so we dessicate it anyway," he said.

With their last canola crop made up of GM 44Y27 and Bonito TT, Mr King said they would only be using GM canola this growing season to assist with weed control.

"Providing it's another dry start, which we're used to, we'll only plant GM, but if it's a green start and we have a good early break, we might go with a bit of TT," he said.

With only a little bit of the farm's lupins left over after the majority was allocated for sheep feed, Mr King said they were like balls of gold last season, at about $460/t.

"Because of the price you're getting you don't like feeding too much of it out, but the sheep are worth money too, so it's a means to an end," he said.

With 20ha of hay for sheep feed, Mr King said they had enough summer feed on hand, with all of the hay and grain stored onsite.

"If it's a generous break in April/ May we should be right, but there will be nothing left out in the paddocks so we will be hand-feeding from February onward," he said.

"Last year we were feeding right through to August to get enough green feed and then that cut off pretty quick, so we've been supplement feeding since the start of December.

"We've been giving them a bit of hay and filling up the lick feeders with lupins and barley to keep them going."

When Farm Weekly visited the property last week the Kings were in the middle of shearing their ewes, having already sheared the lambs back in October.

Shearing 4500 Merinos every eight months, Mr King said they had pushed the program out by an extra month so the wool would reach their buyers optimum 75-80mm length.

Made up of about 2500 ewes and 2000 lambs, the flock is self replacing with its numbers quite consistent over the years.

When the sheep reach about five and a half years old they are sold off.

Generally lambing is in April/May each year, Mr King said their lambing percentage was down to 85pc last year due to the dry start.

"In the past we haven't done preg tests, but I'm going to preg test some this year just to try and lighten up the load a bit," he said.

"If it's a dry start we will cull the dry ones out."

In their breeding program, Mr King said they looked for big-framed sheep with white, stylish crimping wool at the 19-20 micron mark.

"It's hard to find a ram with a micron any higher these days because no one breeds them," he said.

"We've stuck at the 19-20 mark for the past eight to 10 years - if you go any finer you start losing size in your sheep which means you lose your cut per kilo.

"You might get a few more dollars per kilo for it, but you still end up making less because of the loss in quantity.

"It costs about $8 per sheep to shear, so you might as well try and get as much off it as you can, even though our shearers don't have much fun handling the bigger sheep."

With the livestock industry facing mounting pressure to stop mulesing, Mr King said they would continue with the practice until another viable, cost-effective option was found.

"I just can't see the new option with freezing working because it will cost a fortune to mules your sheep," he said.

"I don't want to chase maggot-infested sheep around the paddock all year, so until they create another option that is affordable, or they make it too hard for us, we will continue mulesing."

Mr King said having a dual operation meant the family had some peace of mind in the dry years.

With cropping usually the main source of income for the family's operations, more money was made from the farm's sheep last year.

"At the moment, we're starting to see the benefit of sticking with sheep, as the wool and meat prices are very good," Mr King said.

"Because of that I wouldn't mind pushing our operations out to 40pc sheep and 60pc cropping.

"Obviously that would make more work for us, but we have enough staff to warrant it."

The sheep were also helping keep the farm's ryegrass under control, saving them money on chemicals.

"A lot of the continuous croppers are finding ryegrass harder to kill every year and the seed destructors they are putting in harvesters now are very expensive," Mr King said.

Compared to 30-40 years ago, he said there was a lot more stress involved in running a farm these days.

"It isn't as easy as it used to be with all of the paperwork and traceability you have to do now," Mr King said.

"Add to that the fact that the outcome of your crop is largely dependent on the weather.

"It might have cost $100,000 to put a crop in back then, but now it's nearly a million dollars every year, so it's like going to the casino and putting a million dollar chip on the table every time.

"If it rains you get your money back and if it doesn't you fight your bank manager.

"But as far as the farming lifestyle goes, I'd prefer to be living out here than back in the city.

"We didn't make millions this year, but we made enough to go again."

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