FOCUS is “On the Land” with Philip Attard, owner of Gostwyck Merino. Set just up from Gostwyck Chapel , this beautiful property is producing some of the finest wool in the region. We sit down and talk turkey (well, lamb in this case) with Philip.
Tell us about the history of the property.
Gostwyck was bought by Henry and Grace Dangar in 1834. We can only imagine the work that went into establishing a grazing property in those days. Suffice it to say that it was labour intensive. What was important to note from those days to current day is the determination and effort that was needed to achieve the aims that they had, and the way they went about them.
Henry’s son, Albert Augustus Dangar, continued the development and was responsible for the Elm trees and many of the buildings. His son, Clive Collingwood Dangar, managed Gostwyck until the outbreak of war in 1914. Serving in Egypt and Palestine, he was wounded, operated on and returned to the fighting, but later died when he was being returned to Australia in 1918. He made it as far as Melbourne. The Chapel was built in his memory by the family. His wife, Nora, continued the work. After the second world war, 12,000 acres were taken for soldier resettlement.
In 1963, her daughters, Noreen and Patricia, divided the remainder, and Deeargee and the current Gostwyck were established. Noreen and her husband, Bertram, continued to further develop the quality of wool and reduced the flock average to 18 micron.
After Noreen, and 10 years later, Bertram died, Alison and her husband continued the tradition of improvement with new grazing methods and developed the wool quality to be totally comfortable next to skin. This led to the recent establishment of the henry and grace (www.henryandgrace.com) maternity and babywear range, using 100% Gostwyck Ultrafine Merino. The full range is available at Highland Living in Uralla.
Tell us more about your wool production.
The quality of our wool is in line with the development of the Australian Merino. Henry Dangar’s acquisition of 26 rams in Saxony set the direction. We have preserved this saxon style, as the crimp and length are ideal for processing and fabric performance.
Every fleece is tested in the shed using a LaserScan, and around 17,000 fleeces are classified into Superfine, Ultrafine and Ultimate categories. The Ultrafine is around 15 micron average and has a prickle factor that is similar to cotton. That is what makes it so suitable for babywear when processed as a batch. We test the garments using the WoolComfort meter.
Past surveys have said that over 60% of people will not buy wool because of prickle. We think that overcoming this objection is essential for the long term viability of superfine and ultrafine merino.
How have you seen the industry change over years?
Pressure on Merino is possibly more intense now than ever. With viable grazing options such as lamb and beef, the numbers have changed, and graziers are having to take notice. We are no different. Graziers are grass growers, and we can choose to feed our grass to various types of sheep, cattle or other grazing animals.
At around 1% of apparel fibre, wool is a niche industry, and we are seeing more processors needing to enter into supply agreements as production decreases. The eight years between 2008 and 2016 were very tough for superfines and ultrafines, and many of us had to find ways to make our business work. The prices this year are far better, but competing enterprises continue to apply pressure on Merino wool in Australia.
The henry and grace brand has shown us that consumers love good quality Merino and will place it next to their babies’ skin. That is extraordinary. Many consumers also care about how we look after our animals and our land.
Do you take on any different grazing methods compared to traditional farming?
Yes, we are almost completely using time controlled grazing. There is a cell, and the rest is an intensive grazing rotation method called Techno grazing. It is based on the principle of short term limited grazing and long rest periods. This has helped us grow more grass. It also made it easier to manage worms and fly strike with our unmulesed sheep. We stopped mulesing in 2005.
We find that cattle are essential to get better balance in a rotation grazing system and as an enterprise, it is doing very well.
What does the future hold for Gostwyck?
We will do more work on our pasture management and development. There is a great deal of opportunity to grow more grass and manage it better. Implementing new technology is always on the cards. We hope that this will help reduce the effort needed in areas such as pasture assessment and animal performance. Our current infrastructure should help us implement virtual fencing when it is ready and affordable. That would allow us to apply manpower into other areas.
Then there is the focus on henry and grace. We will continue to put a lot of effort into the brand, as the quality of the products seem to be what the discerning consumer wants and we are growing our wool the right way, with the environment and animal welfare at the forefront. The challenges are plenty for this generation and the next!