On with the show

Almost one year after their previous live show, Tillara Park Suffolk & Poll Dorset Stud made a strong return to sheep showing.

The family farm, based at Pine Lodge near Tocumwal, showcased seven of its sheep at the Deniliquin Show — four Suffolks and three cross-breeds — and took home 14 ribbons at the annual event.Among those ribbons was the Reserve Champion Ram of the Show, Reserve Champion Ewe of the Show and Suffolk Champion Ram and Ewe.They are the kind of results you might expect of a huge breeding stud, but the team behind Tillara Park numbers just six — Amanda and Scott Watkins, their children Emma, 8, and Toby, 6, and Mrs Watkins’ parents Jenny and Richard Smith.The Smiths own the property at Pine Lodge, and the combined family keeps the 1000 hectare farm chugging smoothly. On it they run more than 1500 head of sheep and 200 head of beef cattle.It’s a big job, but Mrs Watkins says that when you love it as much as they do, it’s easy.“I’ve worked in farming my entire life, I’ve always done this,” she said.“When you know them, sheep are super easy to manage.”Mrs Watkins describes the property as “one big happy farm”.“It’s great for the kids,” she said.“When there are jobs myself and Scott can’t take them to, we can drop them off with their grandparents.“In a way, that’s really cool.“The industry is always changing, which is good.“And there’s always ways to improve.”Tillara Park Suffolk & Poll Dorset Stud is proof that change is a constant and, in some ways, they key to success in agriculture.‘We are currently doing around 50/50 meat and wool production,” Mrs Watkins said.“We run too many breeds really. We have beef cattle, Merinos, crossbreed sheep, Poll Dorsets and Suffolk sheep.”The majority of the flock is Merinos, with the family tending to only 100 of the finest Poll Dorsets.“They call them (Poll Dorsets) easy care Merinos. They are shorn every six months.“We just shaved them in February, and they gave us 65 mls of wool on average — which is quite a lot in six months.”Their Poll Dorsets are top of the line, with their rams highly sought after by other farms.“Their consistency and fat content is what makes them a good meat sheep,” Mrs Watkins said.Mrs Watkins has had Poll Dorsets since she was 14, so admits she has a soft spot them.“I first got them so that when all the sheep escaped, I could tell mine apart from the rest of them.“It’s the same reason why the kids have Suffolks — when they escape, they know who’s who.”And if day-to-day life on the farm and preparing for shows is not enough, the family is just about to enter a massive lambing and calving season.“About 1200 of the 1500 sheep are in lamb.“Our Merinos and crossbreds have already started; it’s our busiest time of year.“We’ve got calves and lambs appearing left right and centre.“But it’s no trouble. You tend just to wake up in the morning, and there they are.”Tillara Park leaves newborns on their mothers as long as possible, rearing their young the traditional way. Emma and Toby help catch the newborns and tag the lambs, and also help feed all the animals. And Mrs Watkins said they were actively involved in the stud’s success at Deniliquin.“They can do whatever they choose, but they just love the farm.”While Deniliquin was the family’s first physical show in 12 months, they did not miss the opportunity to get involved in showing at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.“In February (2020), we did the Rochester show and then the Deni Show and the Numurkah Autumn Beef Show in March last year.“Then COVID struck, and we experienced lockdown for the first time.“Our first online show was an online beef show and it kind-of snowballed.“By the end of the year, we had taken part in more than 26 online shows.“It gave our kids the chance to practice without the pressure of a crowd; that’s what got us into it.”The virtual realm allowed the family to enter shows they might not have otherwise been able to get to, including in Queensland and “other little towns all over Australia”.“It was a great chance to give the kids a crack. They made friends all over the country.“We even kept winning categories that we had forgot about. We would just get the notification online!”While the online opportunities were enormous, Mrs Watkins said nothing compared to attending a real agricultural show like the one at Deniliquin.“The smells and sounds, just seeing everybody; it’s good for your health.“Just seeing all the sheep and cattle there was fantastic.“All seven of our sheep got a prize on the day which was quite exciting, but it was all about just getting out there for a live show once again.“The sheep section was incredible, with the sheds completely full.”