All farmers should be advocates for their industry: On the very first Mobble's Farmers interview, Jock Lawrence talks to stud Merino sheep farmer Richard Halliday on advocacy in agriculture, Ovine Johnes Disease (OJD), global perspectives, and agtech. Richard also breaks down his experiences at Livestock SA, which he helped found, and being president of Wool Producers Australia.
Jock Lawrence (00:00):
G'day everyone. This is Jock Lawrence from Mobble and you're listening to the Mobble farmer podcast. On this show I talk to farmers who use Mobble and run interesting and innovative farming businesses. I try to get a sense of what it's like to be in their shoes, what gets them up in the morning, and their views on the challenges and promises of the agricultural industry. The goal here, as always, is so the rest of us can learn from their examples and go on and keep improving our own farming businesses.
Jock Lawrence (00:25):
Today we have Richard Halliday from Callowie Merinos, a Merino stud near Bordertown South Australia. It's great to have Richard on because he has got quite a resume when it comes to agriculture. He not only runs Merino stud with his wife, he's also helped create Livestock SA which now has more than 3000 members and which he was president of the board. Richard also had a four year term as president of Wool Producers Australia, which is the peak national body for the wool producing industry here in Aus. He did all this after leaving school at 16.
Jock Lawrence (00:56):
Now to get things started, in every farming business there is bound to be setbacks. Richard talks about the OJD break out on his farm, and how that led him to a life of advocacy for the livestock industry.
Richard Halliday (01:07):
We were actually unfortunate to be a South Australian flock that was found to have OJD in the early 2000s. That meant we had to basically... sold our ewe flock down to a third of what it was, through a lot of negotiation and discussion with the department, and lots of testing. Once I found a positive here we test every mob on the farm and got everything we could get clear, clear, vaccinated. Isolated part of our farm so there was no stock there. The hardest thing that year was we actually got to selling just over 100 rams a year at 60 odd in an auction and then the rest privately, near $1100 average. That year we put the whole 130-140 rams on a truck and got $50 a head for them.
Richard Halliday (02:06):
Yeah, so life teaches you either sink or swim. We actually went and talked to a lot of people. Got advice. One guy I've had a lot to do with over the years, Ken [Folly 00:02:16], Jackie and I spent a couple of hours with him and we talked about everything in general, and when we finished talking he said to us, "Well you've more or less made up your mind what you want to do." He didn't tell us what we should do. He said you know what you want to do.
Richard Halliday (02:34):
So yeah, we come home and we brought new stud ewes and leased other country to run those animals isolated while we cleared this block of JD and vaccinated everything. Well, now I'm a big advocate for everyone to vaccinate from the word go. For the cost of it is nothing compared to the detriment to your business long term. Probably that stage was when I really got a bit of an inkling into advocacy, because there was a lot of other people that were in the same boat. People that were coming up positive were ringing me and saying, "What do we do?" So that made me think, well might as well stick me hand up while we were re-building, which is an ideal time, because you're still busy getting everything done, but you had that time, and I needed that challenge mentally.
Richard Halliday (03:32):
At that point I was tied up with the South Australian Sheep Advisory Group, which was separate to Livestock SA and anything else, but then at that stage it was still [SAS 00:03:41], well a couple of guys asking whether I'd like to join the SAS sheep and meat and wool group, which covers cattle, sheep and everything. I thought sounded pretty good. It was still that same sought of industry advocacy type stuff. I don't think we were quite 12 months there and SAS basically folded and grain producers decided they were going to have their own independent group. Well, we looked around the table and thought, well we needed a group to represent the livestock producers in South Australia. We already had a group representing dairy. So the executive officer in them days and I were sort of last man standing, because other fellows on the board already had national roles in industry.
Richard Halliday (04:28):
So I, with the executive officer Dean Crabbe, with the support of the others we went through mainly Dean and I put together a constitution and some guidelines and tried to organize the funding that we could actually get up and get running. We managed to do that. Then like now, well it's instrumental in many things, like the re-build of the dog fence in South Australia, the Livestock SA has enormous part in it. Whenever there's like the fires that have been in South Australia the Livestock SA have key roles to getting fodder out to people and providing support.
Richard Halliday (05:05):
I've done some work with government where there was money available for people to do water projects in the drought. Well that's all been done by Livestock SA. That was just I believe at the right place at the right time.
Jock Lawrence (05:14):
Richard, for the listeners, what year was when you founded Livestock SA?
Richard Halliday (05:14):
2010, yeah at that stage we had a South Australian who was chair of Wool Producers as well, and I went onto the board of Wool Producers while I'm chairing Livestock SA, so I kept doing that for that period. Then the guy that was chair retired, and a new chair came in and 12 months in that chair moved on. So the guys asked me to be chair of Wool Producers and I thought well, I come this far, I might as well keep going. So I went in, had to retire from Livestock SAs chair. I could still be part of the board. You physically and mentally just couldn't do both. They are big jobs. So I stepped up to Wool Producers.
Richard Halliday (06:08):
I found that really, really... I've actually said it quite a few times, that sort of level on even at a state level at Livestock SA or [BFF 00:06:19] or New South Wales Farmers Wool Committee, at some point in their lives I think nearly all wool growers should have a go at something like that, because you just get to understand the bureaucracy behind, and the challenges in making... You and I can talk like this and decide this is what we would like to do. Everyone might agree with us, but then you've got those levels of government you've got to get through to make it happen. The ability to make government and bureaucracies, this is what the farmers want and it will be a benefit.
Richard Halliday (06:54):
That's what those roles teach you. I'm probably far more mellow in those roles than I am on my own farm with my own family, because at that level you get shitty, but there's no point getting shitty. You've just got to work out a different way to skin the cat, to use an old adage.
Jock Lawrence (07:15):
Richard, you're answering all my questions in one go. It's simply amazing.
Jock Lawrence (07:19):
Richard, you've said that every farmer should give it a go, being a part of one of these big bodies. What I want to know, what have you taken away personally from being at Wool Producers Australia and Livestock SA? How has it changed the way that you see the industry?
Richard Halliday (07:33):
For me personally, I'm now not afraid to early adapt. We haven't quite got to non-mulesing, but we're into our fourth year of using both pre-operative and post-operative pain relief. You become very aware that, whether we like it or not, there is a lot of eyes watching us and if we can to do something... A classic for me is if I drive up the road and someone's been mulesing and lamb marking, or just lamb marking, and they're doing it in a set of yards by the road, or they've put a mob of sheep back by the road they've just done, and that to me, it does send off alarm bells. Why didn't you put them one paddock further back? I used to get an email once a month from Animals Australia and all they would be doing was sending photos of where they've been to a sheep sale and there's a ram there with busted up front feet, or his balls have let go, or there's a ewe there, all the things that fit in that, not fit to load, but still end up at the sale yards.
Richard Halliday (08:43):
When you get up there or you talk to the right people, it's like, well you take that prying eye away from you if you don't give them nothing to pry about. That's probably one thing that I've learned.
Jock Lawrence (08:56):
Richard talks about being part of these bodies and how it has made him an advocate of the industry. He now talks about the advantages of getting a global view through these bodies, and how that has changed how he manages his own farm.
Richard Halliday (09:09):
One of the lucky parts of being chair, quite a few trips into China and I've visited Italy and England and used to get to New Zealand as well to meet with the Merino NZ, which is a Merino wool group. You'd go away, when I got home from one trip to China and we visited mills and I talked to guys in Australia that were exporters, well now we shear everything at eight months, so that gets you this continual rolling wool harvest basically. Classic wool farmer is, most of our income comes spring to autumn and that's it.
Jock Lawrence (09:46):
All in one big hit.
Richard Halliday (09:48):
Yeah, whereas now, we've got three or four times in the year where we're having moderate income, instead of just having your peak and then a big trough.
Jock Lawrence (10:01):
Richard, I'm just going to backtrack here and as you were talking about before about advocacy and how we shouldn't be giving people the tools to bad mouth the industry. I wanted to hear your point of view on mulesing and what do you think the future of mulesing is in Australia and the world.
Richard Halliday (10:18):
A lot of the media at the moment seems to be putting a lot of pressure that way. I still believe there is a little bit of space for us in the pre and post-operative, doing everything we possibly can to reduce the amount of stress on that animal during those processes. I think there is still a bit of space for us to do that, but I also believe that that ball almost rolled away from us for a little while. We weren't promoting pain relief, or multiple pain relief well enough, so the ball almost got in front of us and it's a bit like, you know when you chase the cricket ball to the boundary, and you start to feel like he's getting away from you, well you probably aren't going to catch up.
Richard Halliday (11:04):
There will be continual pressure on us as an industry to change, but how long I don't know. It's that discussion that just keeps rolling on. I think part of our challenge in any, whether it be sheep, cows, whatever farming, to me we have a really good story to tell. We don't tell that story well enough. You'd be the same at home on your own property Jock. You drive out into the paddock and you find an animal that's deceased over night or the day before, or whatever. I don't know of a farmer that wouldn't feel a bit of like, what's happened? Why? Why is that animal dead? We're all the same. We don't make any money out of dead ones. The persona of big tough guys, but we're all fairly compassionate towards our livestock.
Jock Lawrence (11:56):
Yeah I agree, there's so many stories to tell in the livestock industry that we're just not telling well enough at the moment.
Richard Halliday (12:01):
Yeah, I agree, yep.
Jock Lawrence (12:04):
In a broad sense Richard, what are your hopes for the wool industry and where would you like to see it go?
Richard Halliday (12:09):
Well kick off, I'd love to see the whole of Australia reasonable rainfall. It would be fantastic to get back towards 400 to 500 million kilos of wool. The market shows that it can handle that, and there is opportunities for that volume with some of the work that's been done in some of the blends and the other opportunities for wool. So that can happen.
Richard Halliday (12:36):
I think going forward, as that industry, I think we have space for one research and development organization for the sheep, whether it's meat or wool we actually have to manage those animals the same, even though there is, bearing in mind there is still the issues around mulesing being a practice that we do that we'll still need to do, going forward at this stage that can be detrimental to the meat industry. Some of those type issues have to be addressed. But I think, when you're thinking we've only got... what are we now, around that 70 million sheep in Australia. It's not like when we had 180 million Merinos. That's one challenge. I think we could probably do... because the health issues they have are the same, whether it's going to be a kilogram of wool, or a kilogram of meat. But, our marketing issues are completely different as far as marketing wool to actually get it to be a good value for the producer all the time, is different to meat.
Richard Halliday (13:43):
Because, wool, you're going to have to work with people to actually get the best product, to actually get it out into the market. There's similarities in our animal, but there's difference in our by-product from that animal. So that possibly going down the track, I know government are talking about RDCs at the moment at a national level. Where they're currently at, I don't know.
Jock Lawrence (14:08):
For those listening in, RDC's a research development corporation.
Richard Halliday (14:14):
So like your GRDC, MLA, AWI, cotton, they all have an RDC. I think the wool industry, we have an amazing story to tell about sustainability, because our fiber is actually a natural absorber of carbon as it grows, and most of our sheep farming country is predominantly, bar exceptional droughts, is well managed, and it's open range land, or open grass, or improved pastures. So yeah, there's lots of boxes there we tick as an industry.
Jock Lawrence (14:53):
You've just said something that I've never thought about before is that, wool is actually a carbon sink.
Richard Halliday (14:58):
At an international level, it started late in Australia with some researchers where they're doing the life cycle analysis of wool, going through the whole life cycle of wool from you and I growing it in the paddock until it ends up on a coat hanger, but it actually doesn't stop there, because whereas a polyester product when it's no good ends up in the rubbish bin, wool can be shredded down and turned back into something else. Wool can be reconstituted to come back as a filler for insulation, or come back as felting, or anything like that.
Richard Halliday (15:39):
Yeah, it's pretty amazing what... and a lot of that's happening. There's times there's articles show up in publications about it, but there's some really big picture stuff that's going on where they're doing this life cycle analysis for wool, which has got to be to our advantage. Because, you consider if you pull on that lovely polyester shirt to go play tennis on a Saturday well there's a fair chance it's only a by-product of the oil industry. Whereas, you put on that WAWWA woolen one, well he's coming from a complete cycle. At the end of the day when you're finished with the wool, if you put it in the ground, it rots away.
Jock Lawrence (16:22):
Mm-hmm (affirmative), I couldn't agree more Richard. Now coming back to the Callowie Merino, I was just on your website just before and I see that you have four key words that you seem to follow. It's confirmation, constitution, consistency and covering. Do you want to explain what those four words mean to your business?
Richard Halliday (16:41):
Well originally it was four. I think nowadays we even talk five. We chuck carcass in there at times, because we do the additional measurements for that. That I suppose, where people say like your breeding objectives, having a C at the start of our name made it quite simple that, that made the basis of our breeding objectives. You've got confirmation and constitution. That gives you an animal that grows well, does well and then you chuck in the covering of a good wool, and a sound carcass, but there has to be consistency within all of that, to give us an animal that will eat, produce and reproduce, in many different environments, as easily as we possibly can.
Richard Halliday (17:37):
It's just that play on words, and they are the keys that I've always looked for with sheep. Growing up I can remember an old sheep classer telling me once, if it can't eat, it can't walk, it can't shit and it can't reproduce, well it's no value. That's become part of our... those Cs give us all of those things.
Jock Lawrence (18:03):
There's current pressure in farming to grow the farm on a per hectare basis. Now Richard flips this idea on its head and talks about here how we could just simply just improve what we've got.
Richard Halliday (18:15):
I used to work with the adage, all the gurus would be out there, get big or get out, that sort of commentary, whereas I actually take a bit of solace at times in some of the Kiwis. You go to New Zealand, some of those guys might only have 300 hectares, but on that 300 hectares, a different environment yes, but they're lambing 2700 ewes every year. If they scan those ewes and there's 300 that aren't in, they go and buy 300 that have got twins in them and bring them on the farm and sell the others.
Richard Halliday (18:50):
I did actually read an article this year, a guy that actually... he's got to the stage now, he's scanning and if they scan with a single, he sells the singles and buys twins. Always in the back of my mind I go, poor old Merino ewes. She'll get there, but she's not quite at that stage yet. I think we will as a breed, we'll get to that point, that our Merino ewe will be a lot better as a maternal with multiples, but when you're reading an article, and in your game, you go somewhere visiting and people start talking about those sort of things, you think well, how much more can we do on our patch.
Jock Lawrence (19:30):
Well listen Richard, we're an ag tech company, and I just have to ask where do you think ag tech is going, and how is it going to help, especially the wool industry going forward?
Richard Halliday (19:41):
In light of your ag tech model, I can see a big advantage there, especially now with Angus here. He got one of the early jobs once he started with me was we were taking rams out and shifting ewes to different paddocks and whatnot. We're both inputting information into that all the time, but then what he's doing I know has been done. We haven't put a lot of notes in there for each other yet, but it's as you do things they're actually coming up. I think technically wool industry wise, I think remote telemetry, whether it be wireless or whatever for monitoring troughs and tanks to save a degree of time. You still have to go. Yes, one or two days you can check the tank's full and the trough's full, but on the second or third day you still needed to see that mob of sheep. But some of those things just to streamline our time.
Richard Halliday (20:47):
One of the best things we did for that was, that was in the '80s is, micron testing new hoggets every year. Once upon a time you had variation in your wool. Well we don't. We shear lambs and they are just under 18 micron. We shear five and a half, six and a half year old ewes to sell and they're 20.5. Because you've tested for so long, there's no surprises. I think that's been great. That's a classic example of technology.
Richard Halliday (21:23):
I think electronic tags, as we gradually get better at that. Now we've got electronic in most here at home, well they come in the yard to be drenched, they actually all get scanned and weighed at the same time. That information just goes into the program.
Richard Halliday (21:44):
Some nights I'll sit here and put that program up and look and think, that ewe is actually, and you look down at her lifetime history, well she reared twin lambs, but from when she was weighed at the end of joining last year to the weight at the end of joining this year, her body weight is actually three kilos heavier. So in between there she may have dropped off, but we've got her sorted to get her back to where she was a year before. Some of those times is when you can, as a farmer, pat yourself on the back and think, "Okay, we've got that right. We've got to keep doing that." Whereas in the past, we were visually seeing it and we thought, yep, no they look the same as they always do, but we didn't actually have the data or the technology to tell us.
Jock Lawrence (22:35):
Richard the wealth of knowledge you've given us today has been absolutely amazing. Yeah, thanks for that.
Richard Halliday (22:41):
No just the end, and edit it down a fair bit.
Jock Lawrence (22:48):
I had to actually edit it down a fair bit, because from here Richard and I went on and talked about emotional sacrifice in farming, the fires and the effects on farmers, the collapse of the Australian Wool Reserve Price Scheme and so on and so on. So, yeah it was too much for one podcast, but it was great to have Richard on.
Jock Lawrence (23:01):
Now Richard, where can we find you and Callowie Merinos?
Richard Halliday (23:04):
Just have a look on the internet under the www.callowie.com.
Richard Halliday (23:10):
Thanks Jock, see you mate.
Jock Lawrence (23:11):
It was absolutely fantastic to have Richard on. You can also contact him on Twitter. His handle is @callowie901, and if you've made it this far, well done for battling through my first ever podcast. I would love to hear your feedback. Tweet at me on Twitter with the handle @jock_au or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks everyone. Have a good one.
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