THE Kingwill family likes to think outside the square.
Brothers Bill, Michael and Chris are running a cleanskin prime lamb flock in country that received 1400mm of rain last year.
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Their White Dorper-Van Rooy sheep would be more at home in the arid rangelands of western NSW.
But at the Kingwills' farm at Adjungbilly, on the NSW southern slopes, the flock has to tackle snow during the spring lambing.
The family - historically wool, beef and timber producers - run their 6000-ewe flock across 3500ha, rising to an altitude of 826m.
The flock has a Merino base of 4000 ewes plus 2000 White Dorper-cross ewes, all joined to White Dorper and Van Rooy rams.
Progeny have foraging and feed conversion ability, extra carcass yield, fertility and milking ability, frame size and the shedding gene.
Bill and his wife, Donna, run the 3500ha aggregation in partnership with Michael and his wife Ellen as well as Chris.
They also run 700 Angus and Hereford cows, turning off weaners into the local Tumut-Adelong sales. For many years the family has run the Jeremiah Hereford stud, and they still sell some commercial bulls.
Their enterprise mix has also included a sawmill, which operated from 1996 to 2006.
Bill and Donna's own home features a Victorian messmate, brush box, red gum, red box, red and yellow stringybark, and alpine ash in the floors, walls, ceilings, parquetry, stairs and cabinets.
Always seeking to expand his knowledge, Bill travelled through Russia last month on an agricultural tour, inspecting seedstock operations, dairies, feedlots and grain farms.
He said the Russian Government was offering incentives to rebuild their national beef and dairy herds.
"There are opportunities to supply genetics and breeding stock, particularly unjoined and joined heifers," he said.
"At Voronezh (250km from the Ukrainian border) we saw young Swiss Brown dairy cows that had been bought from Romania for $7500 landed.
"We saw many new rotary and twin-stand robotic dairies, and farmers were being paid 50 cents a litre for their milk.
"But in 11,000km of bus travel through 12 European countries, I saw fewer sheep than the 1000 maiden ewes in my hayshed paddock."
Though Adjungbilly is now a stronghold for the timber industry, it was historically known as highly productive wool and beef country.
During the 1950s, nearby Coolac was the second biggest wool receival site in NSW after Bourke.
It was also the second biggest point on the NSW railway for moving superphosphate.
The Kingwills traditionally ran 17-micron Merryville blood Merino wethers until six years of age.
"It was a profitable operation but when returns started to slip we began to look elsewhere," Bill said.
The brothers finished steers and heifers on pasture and 40 days on grain in an on-farm feedlot during the 1990s for the supermarket trade.
Old wethers were replaced with Merino ewes, which were joined to Border Leicester rams for a first-cross ewe.
Up to 3000 first-cross ewes were then joined to Poll Dorsets, run on the mid-slopes country, and the progeny sold at Wagga Wagga and Cootamundra markets.
When a neighbour used a Dorper ram over Merino ewes in rough hill country, the Kingwills decided to research the shedding breed. They attended field days, searched for information on the internet and spoke to other breeders.
"We had heard the Dorper were better doers on rough pasture and yielded well," Bill said.
The first spring-drop Dorper-cross lambs were run with Border Leicester-Merino and Poll Dorset-cross lambs on cereal stubble over summer.
At shearing in February, the Dorper cross lambs were 1.5-fat score heavier than the rest.
The lambs were sold over the hooks and yielded 2 to 4 per cent more.
"I reckoned if Dorpers could thrive in the western Riverina on two-inch-high barley grass in half head, they could do it here in this high rainfall," Bill said.
Chris was dispatched to the Corowa market to buy purebred Dorpers and paid a record $315 for 62 joined ewes.
"I misjudged the market - it made the papers and I reckon the heading should have been: Fool pays cattle price for sheep," Bill joked.
"We had budgeted $20,000 for purebred ewes and blown it in one hit.
"The breed had taken off - at the time we were paying $50-$60 for good two-tooth Merino ewes."
Maiden stud ewes were added at a cost of $230 and the Jeremiah White Dorper stud was formed.
Highly fertile, purebred White Dorper ewes can be joined at eight months and lamb three times within two years.
"We have avoided the (black) Dorpers to this point because of the market resistance in the yards," Bill said.
Up to 4300 Dorper-cross lambs are sold at 40kg liveweight at eight months of age through the Wagga Wagga yards.
Last year, the lambs averaged $132 and this year $148.
"If the Dorper is continually crossed over the Merino it does lose frame size, so we are infusing the Van Rooy to give a composite close to the Australian White," Bill said.
"We are planning to use Australian White rams over Van Rooy-Dorper cross ewes."
The Kingwills lamb in spring and autumn, and shear in October.
Ewes are classed on conformation while rams are selected for muscle, moderate frame size and early maturity.
"We pregnancy scan all ewes - scanning is the greatest management tool in sheep," Bill said.
"Maidens are joined at a critical mating weight of 40kg, then scanned with the empties drafted off and joined for a spring lambing.
"If there are a lot of twins, the dams are placed on better feed with plenty of predator control."
Last year wet and cold weather resulted in lambing percentages in Dorper-cross maiden ewes of 100 while older ewes were 95-100.
Up to 283ha of grazing triticale and oats are grown on a zero-till system for the sheep.
The crops are locked up in mid-September and harvested for grain.
"In the dry years, the crops yielded up to 5 to 7 tonnes/ha - drought suits us, we were known as the new Junee," Bill said.