Dominic Bower is a sixth generation wool grower on “Stanley Vale”, just outside of Uralla. He shares with FOCUS his passion for his family farm and his journey so far on the land.
How long has the Bower family had Stanley Vale, and tell us how it began?
Stanley Vale has been in my family since the 1860s when the “Bauer” family emigrated from Germany in 1854 on the ship called the Helene. They first settled in Warialda at Yallaroi Station. In 1865, Heinrich Bauer moved his family to Uralla, where he purchased several blocks of land on the eastern side of Uralla in an area known as Big Ridge.
Heinrich was a farmer and a keen sheep/wool man. Shortly after settling on Stanley Vale, he purchased a mob of ewes and several rams from Gostwyck Station, a neighbouring property. The Bauers also had a dairy, and laying hens and grew wheat and lucerne. Self-sufficiency was very important. During the First World War, the Bauer name was changed to Bower. Sheep and wool production were the main enterprise on Stanley Vale, although during the Second World War they grew navy beans for the Government, which fed the soldiers.
I am the sixth generation working on Stanley Vale. I work with my father, Tim. My grandfather, Kevin, will turn 93 this year and is still very interested in the day to day operations of the farm. His knowledge and experience in farming and wool production are invaluable.
Tell us about the property, and what type of wool do you grow?
The property is situated in the beautiful New England region of Uralla, in an area known as Big Ridge. The property is a mixture of flat to gently undulating hills. The soil is mainly basalt. The property is mainly cleared and sown down to pasture; however, we also have native pastures with stands of native trees. Over the last thirty years, we have been actively engaged in planting tree corridors linking these stands of trees.
Since the first purchase of Saxon sheep in the 1870s, the Bowers’ aim was to improve their flock through careful selection and breeding. Dad and Parda have always had one aim – to breed superfine Merinos which have excellent conformation, with wool that is soft handling, stylish and bright. I too have that same passion and hope to add my voice to the breeding and selection process.
What prompted you to continue on the family farm?
I have always wanted to be involved on the family farm, and it was always the plan that I would work with Dad, as he did with his dad. Dad and Mum encouraged me to follow my other passion of playing rugby, which I have played since I was twelve.
When I completed my studies at Farrer Agricultural High School, I took up an offer from the Randwick Rugby Club to move to Sydney; I started playing with the Colts and progressed through the grades. However, after seven years of living in Coogee, where I met my wife, Natalie, we decided it was time to move closer to family and country life. I have been working on the farm now for two years; it’s the best office in the world, and I am currently playing rugby with Walcha, so can’t complain.
Describe a typical day in the life of a sheep grazier?
Depending on the season, whether it is shearing time, joining or lambing time or drenching, there is always something to do. If not animal husbandry for both sheep and cattle it is maintenance of buildings, fences, plant or the water supply, or chipping weeds and sowing down paddocks for crop and pasture.
During times of drought, there is also the added pressure of hand feeding. At the moment we are enjoying one of the best autumn seasons for many years.
What are some of the biggest changes you and your family have seen over the years?
My grandfather has probably seen the greatest changes, from the use of draught horses to tractors, the use of motor bikes, chainsaws and especially the change from hand clippers to electric hand pieces for shearing the sheep.
Some of the most significant changes that I have seen in recent years is our reliance on computer technology, the use of artificial insemination which we use to optimise sire potential and minimise the risk of disease in the sheep and also the use of solar power, which powers the shearing and machinery sheds and operates the pump on the bore, which then feeds water to the troughs. Although, the best invention is the post hole digger – saves me a lot of time and effort in digging and sweat!
What do you love about what you do, and what does the future hold?
I have inherited the same passion as my father and grandfather for breeding sheep and for producing soft, white wool of excellent quality – wool that is sought after by the Italian wool buyers, which they then turn into the finest cloth in the world. I feel it is such a privilege to work on the farm. Every day is different; Dad and I plan our day in the morning and sometimes all goes to plan, while other times it changes – a water leak, a breakdown in the machinery, it’s never boring.
What does the future hold – many good years, but many challenging ones too?
The wool industry is looking more positive than it has for years, the sheep and cattle markets are also doing very well at the moment, there is plenty of feed on the ground and water in the dams, so things are pretty good.
For more information on Stanley Vale, please go to our web page www.stanleyvale.com.au