When Jessica Lee and her husband Matthew took on the East Gippsland cattle property that had been in his family for six generations, they knew they were ready to make their own mark.
Their vision? Building a flock of exceptional quality sheep, to run alongside their Angus cattle.
Born and raised on well-known Hillcreston Superfine Merino Stud near Bigga on the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales, Jess had the sheep experience to do it, but there were questions as to whether the breed she had grown up with would suit the conditions where she now lived.
“When we moved here five years ago, we realised Merinos just weren’t suited to our land,” Jessica said.
“So, we made the decision to go with the self-replacing, haired, meat sheep Australian Whites, because they are hardy and well-suited to a range of conditions.
“We were also mindful of the availability of shearers, with so many producers in our area looking for something they can run without having to have specific skills or experience.
“We thought, let’s take a leap on this breed and see how it goes, and established Leebrooke Australian Whites - and we’ve never looked back.”
Bred for Australian conditions
Today, Jessica and Matthew, along with their children Evelyn, 6, Sylvia, 4, and Jim, 2, run both a study and commercial operation, carrying primarily Tattykeel and Gamadale genetics and are this year, for the first time, are running an embryo program. Additionally, the family grazes 100 Angus breeders.
Originally developed for Australian conditions, Australian Whites require minimal maintenance and are starting to surge in popularity. The breed has a reputation for being lice and fly free, having fast growth rates, high fertility and a good temperament, which Jessica said makes them easy to manage, as they require very little intervention.
“You almost run them like cattle, they’re so hardy. We have had the most horrific range of weather here in the past 12 months and I’ve seen triplets born in pouring rain which have survived with no intervention on our part.”
However, the Lees have also been captivated by Australian Whites’ “unreal, distinct difference” in meat quality.
“When we got into the breed there was a lot of hype around that factor but before we started talking about that we really wanted to make sure we could breed it. Now, we can attest this is one hundred per cent true.”
Inaugural sale to remember
With a clear goal of establishing a premium-quality brand, Jessica and Matthew have been meticulous in the process of selectively building their flock. At the end of last year, they felt the time was right to move ahead with their own small, but high-calibre on-property sale in February 2022.
“We had gotten to the point where we had a few years of breeding rams and were feeling like we were at a place where our stock was quite consistent and were confident each of the rams we offered would go out and perform,” Jessica said.
The “gamble” proved both calculated and expertly executed, with Leebrooke’s inaugural offering averaging $5,517 and topping at $8,750 for Lot 11, Leebrooke 210028, secured by Scott Norman from Moyston Australian Whites in Western Victoria.
“We were absolutely blown away,” Jessica said.
“It was our very first on-property sale and we thought we’d possibly get an average of $2500 and a total clearance; we just wanted to get all the rams out there so people could see what we’ve got and hopefully come back.
“But we had a lot of local interest, a lot of return buyers, and many people who turned up on the day, as well as a lot of interest online, which drove the prices up. It was incredible, just amazing.”
An extra special moment of the day was Jessica’s father, Murray, who has run 39 on-property ram sales himself, being there to see his daughter’s success.
“He had a great day as the pressure wasn’t on him!” Jessica said.
Online proves invaluable
To extend the reach of their buying pool, and demonstrate a commitment to innovation, the Lees joined with the Elite team to support their selling objectives.
“In East Gippsland we are predominantly dairy and cattle production. We did have some local interest, but we really wanted to expand that further,” Jessica said.
“We ended up having three rams go to Queensland and two to the high country of Victoria, while Jarrad Simcock, who runs 5,000 Australian White ewes in South Australia, secured five.
“The way Elite Live focuses on studstock was really what drew us in initially. We had invested a lot of money into our flock, and we could see the value in something like this platform which specialises in the industry.
“But one of the biggest things for us was the personal experience we received from the Elite team. Their professionalism and responsiveness really helped with selling the stock.
“It is an absolute ‘locked in’ that we will go with Elite again.”