Reward for hard work

By Vanessa Wiltshire

Raised on a sheep property at tiny Costerfield, a 15-minute drive from Heathcote, Alan Harris never saw himself doing anything else.

‘‘Sheep and wool is in my blood, I love it,’’ the founder of Koole Vale Merino Stud said.

At the age of 19, Mr Harris founded the stud with the goal to improve his family’s flock and to sell rams that suited the local environment.

‘‘My family has been involved with sheep breeding both on my mother’s side for two generations and my paternal grandfather,’’ he said.

‘‘They both showed wool and I guess you could say that’s where the love came from.’’

Mr Harris said his vision of the ‘‘ideal sheep’’ was influenced by 20 years of shearing.

‘‘It’s given me insight to breeding and farming knowledge, from people all across Victoria.’’

He said shearing had enabled him to see a wide range of bloodlines, which helped shape the Koole Vale vision.

‘‘We aim to produce the ideal Merino, best suited to south-eastern Australia.’’

Mr Harris is married to Prue, a local school teacher and deputy principal. Together they have two children, Ava and Tom.

Recently awarded Reserve Champion Medium August Shorn Ewe at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show, Mr Harris said it had taken roughly 20 years to develop his reputation and brand.

‘‘We started as an unknown. My grandfather said this is a long game; he was right. But it’s very rewarding.’’

Mr Harris travels to many shows and field days. He said networking had been the number one driver for growth in his business.

‘‘We’re always looking for new customers. The industry changes all the time. People retire, they pass away. New players come.

‘‘You’ve got to be constantly out there, marketing yourself.’’

Customer feedback was ‘‘critically important’’.

‘‘When you’re at shows, people tell you how it is. They give information and advice. It motivates me to keep on getting better.’’

Since 1995, Koole Vale Merino Stud has grown from 30 stud ewes to 300. The process has been largely trial, error and persistence.

Mr Harris said the win at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show was a massive boon.

‘‘There are over 2000 sheep with judges working across two-and-a-half days,’’ he said.

‘‘To stand up against the best in Australia, it’s a big thing. We were competing against huge studs, some with thousands of ewes. We just don’t have that selection.’’

Mr Harris said his secret was determination.

‘‘You can still make a mark as a smaller scale producer,’’ he said.

‘‘I learned from the older generation; my parents and grandparents. I’ve had good mentors and I see the industry for what it is.

‘‘At the end of the day, the real reward is being part of a like-minded community.

‘‘Shows are competitive. There are some big personalities. Ultimately, you’ve just got to stand back and enjoy the experience.’’