Rolling green hills and valleys make the small rural hamlet of Merino nothing short of picturesque. It is good farming land; heavy, undulating with clay loam soils. It’s known as dissected tablelands.
The Northcott family is synonymous with Merino. John and Helen Northcott are the fourth generation of the pioneering Northcott clan to farm the family property there. John and Helen now run the 2700 acres with their son Keith and his wife Karla. They also live on farm with their three daughters, Lexie, 11, Portia, 9 and Roxy 7.
“This house we live in was actually my grandparents,” John reflects. “They ran a dairy operation for a few years in the mid ‘20s but didn’t like dairy cows so they moved into sheep. “Not we’re running 2400 merinos, 2500 first-cross ewes and 150 cows.”
John believes this year will be as good as any they’ve seen on the farm. “It’s probably the best start we’ve had. We’ve had over 14 inches of rain at the end of June, it will potentially be our biggest lambing ever if things go according to plan.
“We’ve just started breeding the crossbreds. They all go back to terminal sires, so poll dorsets basically.
“The ewes scanned at about 135% pregnant. We’ve got potentially 6000 lambs running in the balance at the moment; if we mark 5000 that will be the best lambing ever.”
John says they’ve finetuned the lambing process, with better joining of ewes. And it’s in no small part due to Keith, the fifth generation of Northcotts to run the property.
“Keith has undertaken a best management course with the Department of Agriculture so we’re fine tuning things as best we can and probably getting better at feeding the ewes.
“They basically get barley in the summertime prior to joining and they’re fed pretty well up until the autumn break really.
“We grow our own grain and apply the usual fertilizer, super, phosphate and about 400 acres of lime. We also did about 80 acres with gypsum.
“We’ve got plenty of grass at the moment and there’s also a small crop of barley. We finish the lambs on summer crops too.”
Merino has changed a lot over time. At one time the school had 140 students – now it has 25. It was predominantly a dairy area and largely grassland – now there are only a handful of dairy farmers in the district, most farms sheep and beef.
Things have changed on the Northcott farm too. Keith is now responsible for much of the day-to-day running of the property, with John busy as the Glenelg Shire Mayor at least three days per week.
“Keith’s a far better operator that I ever was. When I was operating the farm myself the farm was running me, not the other way around.
“Keith’s introduced farming pratices that have improved our efficiency and productivity.”
Water is an issue on the property. John and Keith have installed more than a dozen dams, including a five megalitre dam which reticulates water around 300 acres of the farm. Lice are also a cause for concern, but the biggest issue is foxes.
“The boys have shot more than 160 foxes this calendar year. One night they got 33 foxes and another night 27 over two nights near Digby.”
The Northcotts have been selling livestock through Midfield for 15 years.
“We use Midfield as one of our selling avenues; we also use agents as well.
“Midfield is pretty good with its pricing. Its costs are considerably lower than other organisations.
“That makes Midfield a favourable option.”