Tarrangower Merinos, David and Angie Waters

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With an extensive family background in the wool industry, David and Angie Waters are the hardworking, forward-thinking owners of Tarrangower Merinos and “Eastview” – a beautiful, park-like 1,350 acre property at Hillgrove. The Waters family run around 2,000 Super and Ultrafine Merinos, and the wool they produce is becoming well-known and awarded for its amazing quality … 

You both have an interesting background in the sheep and wool industry. Could you tell us a little about your respective family histories?

David: Growing wool has been a continual part of life on “Eastview” since my grandfather purchased the property in 1949. As a young boy, shearing was “conveniently” organised around my school holidays, and I have fond memories of these times. 

On leaving school, I bought my own property and continued to work on the family farm alongside my father and grandfather, gaining invaluable experience and knowledge. I obtained my wool classing certificate and worked in many woolsheds classing and preparing woolclips.

Angie: Sometimes I feel that I have wool running through my veins! I am a sixth generation wool producer and very proud of my history. My great grandfather was a very well respected and accomplished wool and sheep classer, who was highly sought after for his skills. My grandparents, Peg and Ross Tully, were well known and respected for their lifelong active involvement in the industry. 

Growing up, every spare minute was spent with my dad on our property. I was his “right hand girl”, and my love of the land and the outdoors escalated from there.

We are both so honoured to be able to continue in our families’ footsteps and to pass our knowledge on to our daughters.

How long have you farmed at Hillgrove/owned your own property?

We continually worked on our family properties until farming together in our own right since 2005, when we took over Dave’s family property, “Eastview”, near Hillgrove from Dave’s parents, Ros and Noel Waters. 

In the same year we purchased stud ewes, commercial ewes, rams and the Tarrangower Merino stud from Angie’s parents, Don and Fay Tully.

Describe your property …

“Eastview” is 1,350 acres in size and a very attractive property. We describe it as park-like, with an undulating topography and an ideal balance of native bushland providing shelter for livestock, birds and native animals. 

The soil types on “Eastview” include 50% basalt and 50% trap, with a mix of highly improved and native pastures. Our property is equally suited to breeding or fattening beef or sheep, but we choose to concentrate on growing superfine wool.

What breed/s of sheep do you mostly run and how many stock do you currently have?

We run approximately 2,000 Super and Ultrafine Merinos, and our primary focus is on wool production of the highest quality.

Our aim is to breed productive sheep producing spinners’ type, soft, bright, stylish fleeces traditionally destined for the highest quality Italian men’s suiting.

Alongside our commercial flock, we also operate our own stud, Tarrangower Merinos, to achieve greater control over our genetics. From the stud, we offer rams for sale in January of each year.

For the last few years, while wool prices have been depressed, we have diversified into cross breeding with White Suffolks from a small portion of our breeding flock, to capitalise on high lamb prices and to improve cashflow. We also run a herd of 100 – 150 cattle, but these numbers fluctuate with the season. 

You’ve achieved some phenomenal success with your wool, winning the Ermenegildo Zegna Superfine Wool Trophy for the second time in a row. To what do you feel you owe this success?

We won this incredibly prestigious prize for the first time in 2017, and that was great motivation to do it again. Thrilled and very proud, we won the competition for a second time in a row this year.

As for the recipe for success, it comes down to not only persisting with superfine wool through some very tough years, but also continually improving and, importantly, having the right product. This is the result of ideal genetics and much hard work growing and preparing this amazing fibre – wool!

We both really love what we do. It gets us out of bed in the morning with a passion and drive to continually challenge ourselves and improve our business.

What does a day on the farm generally look like for you both?

There is no such thing as a typical day for us! Every day is different and varied. We do tend to start early and finish when the sun goes down. We can go for weeks or months on end without stopping, and weekends don’t mean anything on the land.

We work alongside each other as much as possible and always make the big decisions together. 

Working on the land requires knowledge in so many different fields – animal husbandry, agronomy, machinery mechanics, chemical use, reproduction, nutrition, biology – just to name a few, as well as keeping up with today’s technology.

What do you feel is the most challenging – and conversely, the most rewarding – thing about operating a merino stud?

The greatest challenges we face are the variable returns and variable climate conditions. Wool prices are buoyant at the moment, but you only need to look back two years to find prices half what they are today. This variability makes finances challenging to manage. 

Very topical at the moment is the drought we are facing. Managing stock whilst maintaining a positive mental attitude can be very challenging. We have found that

the best policy for us is to plan ahead, be flexible and act early.

Another huge challenge running sheep has been wild dog predation, which is both financially and mentally draining. In 2011 we adopted the use of Maremma livestock guardian dogs, which have all but eliminated wild dog attacks.

Industry accolades and competition success are great rewards, but working for yourself and doing something you love is by far the most rewarding. Some days you forget it is even work!

What are your plans for your property and livestock moving forward?

Our plan is to continue growing wool and expand our wool growing enterprise further. We would love to purchase more land but, currently, are expanding our stock numbers through improving pastures, soil fertility and pasture management.

Our property will always have sheep on it, and we will continually improve them and the wool they grow.

Thanks David and Angie.

Interview: Jo Robinson.

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