Rebuilding the Flock in the Pastoral Zone




Darren, Debra, Rueben, Kaila and Amy Solly





Average Rainfall:




Self-replacing merino flock; merino wethers


Farm Area:

14,163 ha owned, and 20,638 ha leased


Following several years of drought, the Solly’s have begun the process of rebuilding their sheep flock, using a variety of strategies to help speed up recovery.


Darren and Debra together with their son Rueben and daughter Amy manage Yednalue Station, 16 km east of Craddock. The Solly family have farmed the property in the Flinders Ranges since 1927, and farmed in the area since the mid-1800’s.

Normal stocking rate for the property is 0.38 dry sheep equivalent (DSE) per hectare. Before the drought this consisted of a 4,000 head self-replacing merino ewe flock, 1,600 merino wethers (run in rough hill country) and a beef cattle herd of 100 cows and calves. The Solly’s normally produce between 210 and 240 bales of wool depending on the season. The adult sheep cut 7.0 to 7.5kg of 19.5 to 20.5 micron wool, while weaners produce 4 to 4.5kg of wool testing at 17 to 18 ­microns.

Ewes are mated in mid-January for a June-July lambing, and shorn in April. “We used to lamb in April-May, but with the seasonal changes we’ve now lambing later with improved lambing percentages,” Darren said. “We’ve gone from about 75 per cent to 85 per cent.”

Moving shearing from September to April has also helped, with ewes only having short wool during lambing, making it easier for them to stand up after lambing. This has reduced both ewe and lamb losses.

Half of the annual wether drop is kept for wool production until they are about two years old, getting two shearings from them. Three-year-old wethers are normally sold in December. Cull ewe hoggets are sold in September or October to avoid wool contamination from Spear grass (Austrastipa spp.) seeds. Ewes are sold as 5-year old’s in October or November, as prime lamb breeders. Lambs are sold in April, after shearing.

The Solly family are members of the Flinders Merino group; being one of eight businesses in the region that make up the group. The group first started in the mid- 2000’s, following a period of very dry years when producers didn’t know which way to turn or who to talk to. The group has been both a social and business support for members, who willingly share business and production information to help each other improve their business performance. Financial and production benchmarking to compare their business performance and to discuss ideas and options to improve, has been a key activity within the group.

Process of destocking

Prior to 2016 the property had experienced a number of average to good seasons and stock numbers had increased. There were good rains in the first half of 2016 but then was dry in late 2016, followed by drought from early 2017 to mid-2020.  Rain in August 2020 through to October allowed pastures to partially recover.

In late 2017 the Solly’s started to reduce stock numbers with the cattle and wethers the first to be sold. As the drought continued into 2018, they began selling older ewes, to further reduce grazing pressure. To maintain as many breeding ewes as possible the Solly’s sought out agistment in areas that had received reasonable rains, through relatives and other networks.

By April 2020 there were only 1,500 ewes remaining on Yednalue with 600 being fed in a containment area.

Strategies to Recover

1. Agistment

In December 2019, 400 five-and-a-half-year-old ewes were agisted at Paskeville and 300 ewe hoggets at Langhorne Creek onto cereal stubbles.

Following good rains in north western NSW in early 2020 the Solly’s contacted several pastoralists in the Packsaddle area and were able to get agistment for 800 ewes in April 2020. The ewes were vaccinated for pulpy kidney and Vitamin B12; and lambed in June/July with a 75% weaning rate. The ewes and lambs were shorn in March 2021 and returned to Yednalue in early April.

In October 2020 1,300 lambs were agisted at Appila (on to rain damaged hay) to allow pastures on Yednalue to recover.

2. Purchasing stock from Western Australia

In December 2020 the Solly’s purchased 385 two-and-a-half and three-and-a-half-year-old Merino ewes with similar wool characteristics to their flock. They cost $225 per head bare shorn plus $25 freight. After lamb marking, they will reassess numbers and purchase more ewes if necessary.

3. Natural increase

In April 2021 they sold 25% of the wether lambs from last year and have kept the rest to slowly rebuild their wether numbers. Through a combination of agistment, containment feeding and purchasing stock the Solly’ were able to mate 3,000 merino ewes in mid-January 2021 and with reasonable feed are looking forward to a good lambing to enable them to continue to rebuild numbers. To rebuild numbers, they are planning to keep 75% of the 2020 ewe lambs compared to less than 50% in most years.

4. Containment feeding

By early 2020 there was very little quality pasture remaining on Yednalue and rather than selling their remaining ewes the Solly’s decided to containment feed as many as possible. They had had no previous experience with containment and did not have any grain handling equipment. They purchased several second-hand augers and two field bins and rebuilt an old grain feed out cart. They were also able to borrow four lick feeders from a neighbour who had totally destocked. The yards were built using some of their existing sheep yards.

The process was a big learning curve with some sheep losses early in the process as they learnt how much grain to feed. This proved to be very successful and they have recently purchased 80 tonne of hay and plan to buy grain to fill the field bins as insurance.

Opportunities for the Future

The Solly’s plan to continue to rebuild their sheep numbers of both merino ewes and wethers.

They have recently leased another property, which would enable them to run another 4,000 ewes. The new property has been setup for rotational grazing with 48 paddocks (that are less than a quarter of the size of our home property paddocks) and a large number of watering points. The Solly’s have begun rotationally grazing, moving stock every 7 to 10 days, which has maintained good ground cover and improved grazing efficiency.