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Wethers agist for free at Parkes Solar Farm in four year bloodline trial

What do a mob of wethers, a solar farm, the mayor, Parkes Show Society and the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) have in common?

A whole lot in this instance: a four year trial has just begun, with roughly 125 wethers agisting for free at the Parkes Solar Farm in order to measure different bloodlines in the exact same conditions; with the added bonus of all proceeds going to the Parkes Show Society.

Graeme Ostini, who is in charge of the Wether Trial Committee, says this has been in the works for awhile.

"It started two years ago, when Peter Unger and Tim Keith negotiated with the solar farm just down the road to agist sheep for free.

"The solar farm need to keep the pasture contained so it doesn't interfere with the wires and machinery so it was a perfect fit- they hadn't even considered sheep," says Mr Ostini.

The Parkes Solar Farm is a project consisting of 210 hectares of ground mounted solar panels, and being able to agist sheep for free there after the devastating drought is an absolute godsend.

"Normally we would do it on someone's farm, someone would always have a spare paddock, but the drought was biting so bad it just wasn't possible so we turned to the solar farm," Mr Ostini says.

They agreed to give it a trial run, just to make sure the sheep wouldn't cause any issues for the solar equipment, and after it was successful the solar farm said they were keen to continue for a 4 year period.

From there, it snowballed. What originally began as a fundraising idea for the Show Society evolved into a wether bloodline trial that can really hone in on what bloodlines are performing the best and achieving the best dollar.

This is the first year of the four year trial, and on Thursday and Friday last week the wethers were tagged, sheared, weighed, had their wool data collected and a side sample was also taken.

Mayor Ken Keith OAM hosted the event at his shearing shed west of town, and there was a sizeable team of volunteers that included shearers, farmers, a team from Langlands Hanlon, lunch makers, recorders and those that got stuck into any miscellaneous task they could.

The whole lifespan of the trial is run entirely (apart from the involvement of the DPI) by volunteers, and there were plenty of people rolling up their sleeves and working hard in the name of wethers.

Mr Ostini explained in more detail what the wether trial would mean for farmers and their bloodlines across the lifetime of the trial.

"The DPI collates all that data collected across the two days and analyses how each team is going and the value they are getting out of their sheep.

"At the end of the four years, which is the normal commercial lifespan of a sheep, the income of every single sheep that is in this trial, and its bloodline,will be able to be compared in the exact same conditions.

The wool clip collected on Friday morning will be sold soon, and Mr Ostini was hopefully for a good collect.

"We will sell it [the wool] in Sydney in a few weeks time where we will probably generate, I hope, in the vicinity of $5000-6000 for the show."

A previous merino bloodline study from the DPI that included wethers from all over the state, run from 2007 to 2018, gives some sort of insight on what sort of data we can expect to glean from this four year trial.

The report included information and analyses on fibre diameter, clean fleece weight, wool quality, financial performance and liveweight.