Spirits high at Dowerin
The small Wheatbelt town of Dowerin once more hosted WA’s biggest agricultural event, with all involved keen to celebrate Australian farming in style.
In its 52nd year, the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days last week attracted more than 24,000 visitors through its gates, a result just short of last year’s record attendance.
With millions of dollars of machinery and products on display and more than 770 exhibitors, and splashes of livestock, fashion and WA produce, the two-day event was a colourful example of the importance of agriculture in the State.
Dowerin field days chairman Michael Metcalf, whose family has had a long association with the event, said it was encouraging to see both visitors and exhibitors in high spirits.
“Exhibitors have reported strong sales and genuine interest this year, which was more than we had hoped for given the difficult start to the growing season,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Alannah MacTiernan, who officially opened the field days, paid tribute to the tireless work of volunteers. “They create this amazing exhibition of farming,” she said.
“It’s an amazing environment that encourages people to take on the latest, and the best, that science and technology has to offer, and it also also promotes farming.
“In times like this, when there have been a lot of climate challenges, it is fantastic to see the community pulling together and looking for solutions.”
A new addition to this year’s program was a display of the progeny of a sire evaluation program, a joint venture between the Stud Merino Breeders’ Association, the Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association and Muresk Institute.
Dowerin field days livestock co-ordinator Brett Jones said the display, which included shearing demonstrations, had been a drawcard for visitors.
The program involved artificially inseminating Muresk ewes using 11 different sires, with 50 ewes per sire.
“The resulting lambs ran together, with the performance of the progeny measured to compare the genetics of each sire evaluated,” Mr Jones said.
Fashion parades were also reintroduced to the field days this year, through a partnership with Eco Fashion Week Australia.
“The designers used only sustainable products, such as wool and cashmere, to create their garments,” event co-ordinator Sue Blay said.
The Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days last week presented a comprehensive look into WA’s sheep industry, with the Bayer Avenge Ram Shed and Milne Marquee being hives of activity.
A total of 29 Merino studs brought their best to Dowerin, as did a range of meat sheep breed exhibits, all proving to be a drawcard to a steady flow of visitors. Those inspecting the rams on display also had a rare opportunity to look over Muresk Institute’s sire evaluation program, with progeny from 11 different stud sires penned and waiting to be shorn.
Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days livestock co-ordinator Brett Jones said the inaugural Muresk display of Merino sheep was a welcome addition and had been earmarked to return next year.
“Stud Merino breeders who participate in these trials are using the relevant information, obtained in fair comparisons, to improve their breeding programs,” he said.
Heiniger shearer Todd Wegner said the Muresk ewes and wethers were a “mixed bag” of wool types, as he made his way through the mob.
Overall, the 304 progeny, born June 2016, of the Muresk program, produced an average fleece weight of 4.2kg.
Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association executive officer Ben Swain said such trials were meant to show variation, as it helped to make benchmarking relevant.
“It has been a challenging season during this trial and we expect it will reflect in next year’s progeny,” he said.
Eco-friendly woollen garments of high fashion and freshly shorn fleece from trial-measured Merinos took centre stage at the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days last week.
The return of the fashion parades, which showcased national and international designers who worked with natural fibres, was applauded by visitors.
The parades were the creation of Perth designer and founder of Eco Fashion Week Australia Zuhal Kuvan-Mills, whose own label, Green Embassy, focuses on sustainability, organic agriculture, art and slow fashion.
Ms Kuvan-Mills said her parades highlighted fashion could be both stylish and kind on the environment.
It was only natural that the models wearing Australian Merino fibre also took time out of their busy schedule to visit the Bayer Avenge Ram Shed and tailor a paddock-to-fashion provenance.
During their visit, the 29 stud Merino breeders reflected on all their due diligence in producing-sheep that grow the world’s best apparel wool.
The models also admired a freshly shorn fleece, which represented the Muresk Institute’s inaugural sire evaluation program display at the field days.
Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association executive officer Ben Swain said it had been a terrific trial, a first for Muresk, with progeny from 11 different stud sires being used to artificially inseminate 50 ewes each.
“We run the progeny, ewes and wethers, together in one mob,” he said. “The trial is about technology and the business side of breeding Merinos. It tells us that there is a huge range of genetics with various studs breeding towards the many traits of choice, including heavier fleece weights, worm resistance, less wrinkle and others.
“This shearing of the progeny at Dowerin in a public area is new for any sire evaluation trial, all of which date back to 1989, and visitors were keen to inquire on how it all worked.”
Cranmore Merino stud coprincipal Kristin Lefroy, of Moora, whose family has been participating in sire evaluation trials for many years, said his stud was pushing fleece weight without compromising on wool quality, fertility and meat traits, all-the-while being mindful of body structure.
“With our sire’s progeny at the Muresk trial all running together with other stud sires’ progeny in the same environment, the data results represent an example of public benchmarking and there is some business risk if, for example, any particular stud sire’s progeny have poor measurement or visual results in comparison to others in the trial,” he said.
Also new to Dowerin field days was the inaugural junior Merino judging, in which 36 students from five agricultural schools participated. The winners gained automatic entry to the State championships at the 2017 IGA Perth Royal Show.
Dowerin field days livestock coordinator Brett Jones said from the runway to the ram shed, it was all fitting with this year’s focus on technology and innovation.
Ryan Rader and Rachel Grout of Narrogin and their 14-month-old daughter, Sophia, enjoy the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days.
More than 24,000 people attended the two-day event.
Presenting Muresk Institue’s display of its sire evaluation program at the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days are Muresk farm manager Brad Meagher, Dowerin field days livestock co-ordinator Brett Jones, Curtin University student Georgia King, Heiniger shearer Todd Wegner, Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association executive officer Ben Swain and Merino Lifetime Productivity trainer Jonathon England.
ABOVE: Jennacubbine woolgrower Joe Bowen with stud co-principal Kristin Lefroy at Cranmore’s display. LEFT: Lewisdale principal Ray Lewis welcomed a visit by two-year-old Logan Marris and his uncle, Christopher Marris, with both admiring the stud’s woolly Poll Merino ram.
Te Rakau Texel stud co-principal Maria Wood.
Model Erica Anne, wearing a Merino wool design, took time off the runway at the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days to visit the Bayer Avenge Ram Shed, where the Muresk Institute's sire evaluation program had its inaugural display of woolly wethers and ewes.
Fashion parade models wearing woollen garments visited the Bayer Avenge Ram Shed, where they admired a freshly shorn fleece that weighed in on the averages resulting from Muresk's sire evaluation program.