A couple of weeks ago I visited Mill Post sheep station in Bungendore, NSW, about three hours south west of Sydney. Mill Post has been a farm of that name since the 1800’s. It was in the 1970’s that Roy’s parents took over the farm and continued its operation with around 3000 Merino sheep.
I was visiting Maya, whom I went to fashion school with in Brisbane six years ago, her partner Roy, an organic sheep farmer, and their superbly independent three year old daughter, Evie.
It was a wonderful weekend. We cooked crepes, chopped firewood and herded sheep. We traipsed around the property so I could learn more about the wool life.
- It takes about an acre to raise a sheep. Mill Post has close to 3000 acres of land.
- Paddocks look indistinguishable but farmers refer to them like suburbs of a city. Mill Post has about 50, each have a name and are found via the cardinal points.
- Sheep take a full year to grow their wool. At Mill Post they get sheared between Christmas and New Year. Shearers used to come and stay on the farm on those days, with cooks and other support staff, roving around to each farm to shear as a team.
- At mid-year, the sheep get crotched, which is shearing just around the face and crotch so the sheep can still see as their fleece grows!
- Shearing is hard and fast. It’s ten sheep an hour for a young shearer, Roy’s father says, but a 25 sheep an hour for an experienced shearer.
- The fleeces come off in one piece, get stripped of their ratty surroundings and then are graded on a criteria of fibre length (about 8cm) and diameter, among other qualities.
- This wool is compacted into bales, compressed until the bale is almost as hard as wood.
- The bales are trucked out to the auction houses where most other farms send their wool, too. Most of it is shipped to China for scouring (washing), as Australia's capacity to scour and spin has reduced over the years. Most wool doesn’t return to our shores.
- Merino is such a fine product it never used to be used for blankets. Roy said, “When I was growing up you’d never see a merino blanket, not even sweaters, only suits because it’s so fine”.
- Value-adding is the future for Australian wool, so many smaller farms are trying to work out how they can scour, spin and weave onshore to offer traceable, Australian made wool products.
- Being on a farm is like camping full-time. There are different priorities on the land – like one day, we scheduled a few hours for wood chopping to warm the house.
- It is extremely difficult to protect sheep in thousands from fly strike without muelsing. Muelsing is an increasingly controversial practice that has thick flaps of skin sliced off the backside of sheep to prevent flies laying their eggs in the folds.
- Mulseing happens once in a sheep’s life, and at Mill Post the sheep are sprayed with a numbing agent afterward. Roy has his own flock of about 170 sheep that he bought from his father about a year ago. He is nurturing the flock, which has grown from 100 to 170 in a year or so. The flock is small enough that Roy can keep a close eye on each sheep to treat fly strike early without muesling.
- The worker dogs run around the herds to create a whirling pool of sheep that they can guide through a gate like a funnel.
My favourite mental image from the visit was when Evie and I helped Roy guide the sheep from one paddock to another. Evie was tired, and there was a lamb that was also tired, lagging behind the rest. Roy scooped up Evie in one arm and the sheep in the other. He strode behind his flock with his armful until both girl and sheep were rested and the flock were calmly grazing again.
Expansive skies, sparkling morning frosts, and the friendliest folk will see me back again in no time. Thank you, Mill Post!
Brandy, Roy's pup
The original shed; the old dairy near the wool shed
Roy, Evie and lamb