- May Young Farmer: Dustin Cross
Wimmera Farmer presents a monthly feature that profiles young people in agriculture and looks at what drove them to a life on the land.
AT 25 YEARS OLD, Kaniva’s Damien Hawker is one of the youngest sheep stud owners in the state.
Damien started his white suffolk stud about 11 years ago, while he was still at school.
Last year he had the opportunity to buy out a neighbouring stud and he is now preparing to have his first ever on-property ram sale in September.
Starting with sheep
“I’VE always had an interest in sheep,” Damien said.
“We used to have pet lambs when I was a kid and my grandfather is a great stock person.”
Damien said when he was young, he started breeding his own rams for the farm and selling off the excess.
His parents are mixed farmers and the family farm involves 50 per cent cropping and sheep.
The farm runs about 2000 commercial ewes.
“The sheep tie in well with the farming enterprise,” Damien said.
He said when he was first starting out, he enjoyed taking his sheep to shows.
“My stock was always on par with other breeders – I wasn’t embarrassing myself at all,” he said. “From going to the shows, a lot of people took me under their wing and helped me out with both sheep breeding and with the social side.”
Damien did a Certificate IV in Agriculture at Longerenong College where he learnt to shear.
“I shore for about five years from pretty much when the crop was in until the header came out of the shed,” he said.
“It was a good opportunity to meet other people and see other people’s sheep. I did enjoy it, but I just don’t have time anymore.
“If I’m away for the few days now, the farm business is missing out.”
The world has got to eat and people are always going to eat red meat, so there will always be a market.Kaniva producer Damien Hawker
When the opportunity came up to buy a neighbouring stud, Damien jumped at the chance.
“It was a great addition to my stud, Omad White Suffolk,” he said.
“It’s now growing into bigger and better things
“I’m definitely one of the younger stud owners in the breed.” The stud boasts about 200 breeding ewes.
“I am hoping to grow that but it will depend on supply and demand,” he said.
“It’s an 18 months process for each ram, so you never know how it’s going to go.
“At the moment I’m thinking ahead to the next 18 months.
“It’s about forward planning, but the world has got to eat and people are always going to eat red meat, so there will always be a market.
“I am confident that market will keep growing.”
Damien said white suffolk was a good breed.
“I chose white suffolks because that’s what we always had a home,” he said. White suffolks have a life span of about five to six years.
Damien tracks the performance and progress of each sheep from when they are born.
All lambs are tagged at birth and their birth weight is recorded.
“I enjoying seeing the progeny and looking at the genetics side of sheep breeding,” Damien said.
“I’m always trying to source the best genetics to improve the sheep and push the stud further along using artificial insemination and electronic tagging.”
He uses electronic ear tags to permanently record information. “It’s something I’ve started using more and more and have been loading basic information onto the tags,” he said.
Sheep on show
DAMIEN is also involved in the sheep show scene and is getting ready to take stock to the Australian Sheep and Wool Show in Bendigo and Sheepvention at Hamilton next month.
“It’s a chance for people to see your stock,” he said.
“I’ve been doing shows for about eight or nine years – it’s a good place to network and a good way to benchmark your own stock and see how it compares with others.
“I’ve been pretty successful over the years and it is a passion.” A lot of hours go into getting sheep ready to go on show, including grooming and training.
Damien said it took months of preparation.
“It’s worth it for a sale or a nice ribbon,” he said.
“I’ve got eight rams going to shows this year in various classes.”
Omad White Suffolk will have it’s first on-property ram sale on September 22.
About 100 rams will be up for sale. ”I’m excited, but no doubt I will be a nervous wreck during that week,” Damien said.
Most rams will go to commercial breeders and some will go stud clients.
“Hopefully most of the rams will stay in the district,” Damien said.
“Because I bought out the neighbouring stud, I have a bit of a client base already and hopefully that play into my hands.”
Life on the land
DAMIEN said what he liked best about being a farmer was the freedom and serenity.
“There is success too, but the past few years have not been favourable,” he said.
“You’re not living unless you are in debt.”