No Winnebagos please, there’s too much work to do

When Dawson Bradford finally hangs up the boots, there’s one thing he knows for sure - there’ll be no Winnebago, thank you very much. He doesn’t need it; by his definition he’s already been retired for more than 60 years.

The Hillcroft Farms stud principal declared at a function recently that “If retirement’s about doing what you want to do in life then I retired the day I left school.” At 76-years-old he’s one of the lucky ones who found his calling early, but admits he didn’t fully appreciate it until a few years ago.

“I was at a conference with about 300 people and the question came up, ‘who of you are working in a job that you’re happy with?’ and less than 20 per cent of the audience put up their hands. It just floored me,” he said.

“If that’s the case then I can understand why people retire. I thought everyone was happy with what they do.”

Dawson and wife Greta have owned Hillcroft Farms near Narrogin, Western Australia since 1967, along with their son Dawson since 1992 and with his wife Lisa since 2001. In 2005 they began to establish a new breed, the UltraWhite. A flock of 5000 ewes, made up of stud and commercial UltraWhites, are now the only sheep bred on Hillcroft Farms for ram sales and prime lamb production.

It’s been a long road and there’s more developments in fertility in the works, but Dawson says they’re on the right track. Their recent stud sale grossed $851,750 and the top price came for an UltraWhite ram at $18,000, setting a record for Hillcroft Farms.

“Developing the UltraWhite breed is something I’m very proud of. We’ve developed a breed of sheep that fits in with what we wanted and what we thought the industry wanted and it’s escalating very quickly now,” he said.

“It’s exciting and that excitement keeps you going. It’s not something that happens quickly and a lot of the time you don’t even know what the end result will be. We know we haven’t completed the task yet but we’re well on the way and we’re getting a lot of support from producers who think it’s right.”

With a bucket load of experience and knowledge to share on the breed, Mr Dawson has enjoyed a few overseas trips in recent years. In 2018 he spoke at the World Sheep Conference in Beijing and last year he travelled to the Mongolia Academy of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Science in Huhot, China. He also enjoys sharing Hillcroft Farms with Chinese agricultural students on their annual visits - even when the language barrier throws a few curveballs his way.

“We had one group many years ago who came to visit and at the time our sheep had just a little bit of scabby mouth and they misinterpreted it for foot and mouth. Within seconds they were back in their vehicles. It took a lot of reassurance from their interpreters to get them back off the bus,” Mr Dawson recalls with amusement.

And does he see himself slowing down anytime soon with a good book and a cup of tea? No chance.

“There’s too much work to do with this breed and I’m really looking forward to it so I’ve got at least another 10 years to do,” Mr Bradford said.

“I get bored very easily too. Retirement wouldn’t suit me.”