Western Australian sheep producer surveys

Page last updated: Thursday, 11 August 2022 - 1:50pm

Please note: This content may be out of date and is currently under review.

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Comprehensive survey data is collected on Western Australian sheep enterprises and producer intentions every four years by DPIRD and was most recently collected in June 2022. The survey topics include demographics such as flock size, mating type and stocking rates.

Detailed questions are asked on reproduction, marking, stud selection, knowledge and practices around sheep management.  

2022 survey update

Surveys were conducted in 2011, 2014, 2018 and June of 2022. The latest survey results are now under review and will be made available on this page when the summary is complete.

Thank you to all contributing sheep producers for completing the survey, your insights help inform future research and development in the sheep meat and wool industry.

Executive summary - 2018 results

Previous survey results can be found from links in the sidebar where you can download a full report from the 2018 WA producer survey.

The 2018 survey was conducted by telephone with producers who had more than 500 sheep and were located in the Medium Rainfall Zone (MRZ) or Cereal Sheep Zone (CSZ).  The sample sizes for the 2011, 2014 and 2018 surveys were 369, 368 and 389 respectively.

National surveys were also carried out as part of the Sheep CRC's program of evaluation in 2011 and 2014. The questions asked in these surveys are repeated in the WA Sheep Producer surveys of 2011 and 2014. 

Flock dynamics and enterprise decisions

Sixty-three percent of respondents identified both wool and prime lamb as their primary enterprise; 27% identified wool and 10% prime lamb. 

There were similar numbers of respondents identifying as wool producers in the MRZ and the CSZ but there were nearly double the number of producers who identified as prime lamb producers in the MRZ than the CSZ (13% compared to 7%).

There has been a significant shift in flock size over the period with a reduction in the average flock size across both regions. The average flock size has decreased from 4402 (2014) to 4210 (2018).  The median flock size in the MRZ reduced by a third from 2011 to 2018, indicating that there is now a larger number of smaller flocks being run in the MRZ although there is a small number of very large producers.

There has been an increase over time in the proportion of respondents running a commercial flock and buying rams (69% in 2014 to 82% in 2018).  The percentage of ram breeders who only breed rams for their own use has more than halved to 6% while the percentage of producers who both breed for their own use and buy in rams has increased to 16% in 2018.

Eighty-two percent of respondents ran a commercial flock and bought rams, 30% bred rams for their commercial flock, 12% bred rams for sale and 5% traded sheep only.

Those with a Merino based flock were more likely to use ASBVs or selection indices to choose a stud source than meat-focussed matings where producers were more likely to choose a breeder based on advice from a classer or agent.

There was a significant decrease in the number of producers choosing rams based on a combination of look, performance data and some genetic information between 2014 and 2018, but there was a concurrent increase in those choosing on genetic data.

Just over half the respondents stated they would maintain their flock numbers, while 36% intended increasing flock numbers, with no significant difference between zones.  Twelve percent intended to decrease their flock numbers, mainly due to their ‘age’, ‘seasonal conditions’, ‘selling the farm’, ‘labour issues’ or because ‘sheep are hard work’.

Practices and production

The average marking rate in WA has steadily increased from 84% in the 2010 season to 92% in the 2017 season in Merinos and from 92% to 97% in meat lambs. The CSZ had a higher average marking rate for both Merino and crossbred flocks, however meat flocks in the MRZ were highest at 110%.

There was a positive correlation between flock size and the number of lambs per hectare in both regions with the largest 25% of flocks having a significantly higher number of lambs per hectare.

In the MRZ, Merino flocks primarily lambed between May and July, peaking in July. In the CSZ there was a clear predominance of lambing in May.

Scanning for litter size has significantly increased since 2011 from 9% to 17% of respondents and covers nearly 30% of ewes. Fifty percent of respondents choose not to scan for pregnancy.

Two-thirds of Merino lambs in WA that were mulesed had pain relief whereas in 2011 just over half of Merino lambs that were mulesed had pain relief. Ninety-two percent of meat lambs were not mulesed in the 2018 survey.

More than double the number of lambs were sold to slaughter than live export in WA (70% compared to 30%). Lamb slaughter was much more important than live export in the MRZ for producers who produced wool whereas live export was more important in the CSZ for wool producers.

Only 14% of producers with Merino flocks sold lambs exclusively to live export and 47% sold lambs exclusively to slaughter while only 3% of dual enterprise producers sold lambs exclusively to live export and 60% exclusively to slaughter.

The peak lambing time for those who export lambs to live export is April to June for all enterprises.

More than 40% of lambs were sold through an agent with wool producers in the CSZ being the most likely to use one. Saleyards were the least important method of selling in the MRZ whereas it was of equal importance to direct selling in the CSZ.

Thirty-eight per cent of respondents had attended one or more sheep events over the last four years.

Eighteen percent of respondents had participated in Lifetime Ewe Management (LTEM) with more in the MRZ than the CSZ. Practice change since attending was highest in those who completed LTEM at 90%.

Contact information

Katherine Davies
+61 (0)8 9690 2169
Janet Conte
+61 (0)8 9368 3206