Farmer in Focus – Joel Donnan

It’s hard not to think about the role of genetics when talking to Joel Donnan because his passion for stud sheep and the fact that he’s a fifth-generation farmer all suggest ‘it’s in the blood’. 

Joel farms at Willangie—in between Birchip, Sea Lake and Woomelang in north west Victoria—with his parents, Andrew and Denita, his brother Trent, wife Lauren and their two children, Leni and Arlo.  

The highly successful Anden Stud comprises of Anden White Suffolks, Anden UltraWhites and Kerangie Suffolks. Their 25th on-farm ram and ewe sale was held in October this year with 250 lots on offer.   

Now, in the post-sale and pre-harvest period, Joel had time to tell us more about the farming operation and which direction the farming operation, particularly the livestock enterprise, is headed.  

Can you give us a bit of background on yourself and your farm? 

I grew up on the farm and went to Tyrrell College for my primary and secondary education. After Year 12, I went to Swan Hill to complete a landscape gardening apprenticeship. I always intended to come back to the farm but I also wanted to meet other people and get away for a while. I like the diversity of work we do on the farm. We crop about 60 per cent of the farm and graze the rest.  

How do you find working as a family operation? Do you have specific set roles that you focus on? 

We try to outline what we do at the start of the week and just move from task to task. We tend to all have the same skills but I lean toward the stud work.  Sometimes I’m up until 2 or 3 in the morning working on the data we collect for the stud.  

What data do you collect? 

Among other measurements, we collect birth weight, muscle score and post weaning weight. Our customers, the stud breeders and commercial breeds, look for these measurements and pedigree when deciding what to purchase. 

We do a lot of the work at lambing in June to the end of July to get accurate birth weight figures. Our software has records of the full pedigree of all our stud sheep. This year, we have 400 ewes in our artificial insemination (AI) program. We weigh every lamb by hand as close to birth as possible, even the ones that have died.  

How do you use the data? 

Dad and I tend to nut out where we want to head with the characteristics and we’ll be very critical in selection for the traits we want. Our sheep genetics software enables us to accurately record the data then make informed decisions about what we keep or move away from. In the past we have bred for a longer animal but now we’re leaning back to a more moderate size with higher growth rates.  

What are your plans for the farm in 2021? 

We’re moving into DNA testing and genomics which will enable us to focus on meat tenderness and eating quality. In 2021 we also hope to start a breeding association for our UltraWhite breed. It’s a poll dorset – dorper cross breed and something we’ve been working on with Dawson Bradford from Western Australia for 8 years.  

Where do you go for advice? 

A lot of sources: I go to breeders conferences and sheep shows regularly and look forward talking with like-minded people. Other breeders and genetics advisors are also good sources of information.  

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